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Decision to leave Gsomia is blasted in Washington

Aug 28,2019
U.S. congressmen from across the ideological spectrum are blasting the South Korean government’s decision to terminate its bilateral intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, adding to criticism of the move by the U.S. State Department and the Pentagon.

Rep. Eliot Engel, chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement issued Saturday, “I am deeply concerned by President Moon Jae-in’s decision to terminate the General Security of Military Information Agreement.”

He described the bilateral pact, also known as Gsomia, as “a hard-sought and important agreement that contributes to a shared understanding of regional security threats between U.S. allies.”

This was a rare criticism of the Moon administration by name.

Engel, a Democrat from New York, called the decision “particularly troubling,” pointing out that “the justification for exiting the agreement indicates a failure to compartmentalize longstanding historical issues between Seoul and Tokyo.”

He added, “it is irresponsible to allow the escalating tensions to hinder practical national security-oriented cooperation that impacts not just Korea and Japan but the entire region.”

The lawmaker did not specifically mention that Seoul was responding to export regulations taken by Tokyo, widely seen as retaliation for South Korean Supreme Court rulings last year ordering Japanese companies to compensate victims of forced labor during World War II. Japan earlier this month announced it would remove South Korea from a so-called white list of preferred trading partners today, citing security concerns. South Korea in turn decided not to renew the Gsomia with Japan last Thursday, giving an advance notice of 90 days.

Engel, a longtime vocal supporter of the South Korea-U.S. alliance in Congress, said, “Seoul’s decision undermines regional security” at a time when the two countries along with Japan should be “working together to counter North Korea’s provocative ballistic missile tests.”

The bilateral Gsomia usually has been used to share information between Seoul and Tokyo about North Korea’s weapons tests.

Washington, which has a separate three-way military information-sharing agreement with Seoul and Tokyo, has encouraged trilateral security cooperation in the region.

Engel urged “the leadership in both countries to work together to resolve their differences and to ensure that the economic and security order is strengthened.”

He said that it is “crucial” that Washington’s “allies continue to coordinate to ensure the peace and stability of Northeast Asia.”

Rep. Michael McCaul, a Republican from Texas, in a post on the Republican’s House Foreign Affairs Committee Twitter account Thursday also wrote that he is “disappointed that the future of intelligence sharing” between Seoul and Tokyo “has been thrown into doubt by South Korea’s decision to withdraw from” the Gsomia.

McCaul said that “North Korea remains an imminent threat” and that “democracies must work together and help protect one another.”

On Sunday, Morgan Ortagus, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, tweeted that Washington is “deeply disappointed and concerned” about the termination of the Gsomia.

Seoul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said it closely conferred with Washington on the decision.

A senior South Korean Foreign Ministry official said Tuesday, about the U.S. State Department’s remarks on the Gsomia termination, “we have continued to closely and exhaustively communicate on our situation.”

South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said Tuesday, on the government’s decision to terminate the Gsomia, “As the Japanese government has cited damage in trust over security concerns as the reason for the removal of Korea from its white list of countries that receive preferential export treatment, sharing our military information [with Japan] is not in accordance to our national interests.”

The bilateral Gsomia was signed in November 2016 and is set to expire on Nov. 23. Thus, there are three months left for the Gsomia to end without renewal.

Seoul can continue to share intelligence with Tokyo through the Trilateral Information Sharing Arrangement (TISA), with Washington serving as an intermediary, an agreement that was signed in December 2014.

Lee said Monday in a parliamentary meeting that it would be “desirable” for the government to reconsider a military information-sharing pact with Tokyo should Japan withdraw its export restrictions on South Korea.

Analysts have voiced concern that Seoul walking away from the Gsomia could have an impact on other security issues and alliance matters with Washington. They also point out that the TISA cannot completely stand in for the Gsomia. U.S. President Donald Trump on the sidelines of a G7 meeting in France Sunday called South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises a “total waste of money.”

David Maxwell, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former U.S. Special Forces colonel, told the JoongAng Ilbo Monday that the Gsomia termination can have an impact on upcoming bilateral defense cost-sharing negotiations expected to begin as early as next month. He pointed out that Washington may demand Seoul pay $5 billion in the next agreement on South Korea’s share in costs for the upkeep of U.S. troops in South Korea - from the current $858 million that South Korea agreed to pay following a deal reached for this year’s costs in February.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]