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The worst option of all (KOR)

Feb 13,2020
The Blue House is reportedly mulling an end to the General Status of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) with Japan. In November last year, the military intelligence-sharing deal was nearly terminated as a result of Japan’s economic retaliations for Korean court rulings for compensation for wartime forced labor. In the face of strong U.S. opposition — and because of deepening concerns about the deterioration of Seoul-Tokyo relations — the Moon Jae-in administration withheld the termination card. It said it was suspending the effect of the termination notification as “the agreement can be discarded at the time.”

Nevertheless, the Moon administration is poised to push for the discontinuation of Gsomia. Despite the JoongAng Ilbo’s report Tuesday about such a surprising change of mind ahead of the April 15 parliamentary elections, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not deny it, saying that the suspension was only provisional.

As we repeatedly stressed, a scrapping of the military pact is the worst option of all, as it backfired already. The government chose the option to pressure the United States to persuade Japan to ease its sanctions on exports to Korea. But the results were the opposite. Washington expressed strong dissatisfaction toward Seoul instead of convincing Tokyo to lift sanctions.

What worries us most is Washington’s reaction after Seoul pulls the plug on Gsomia. Despite the nuanced wording, the United States and Japan will be disappointed at the revival of the idea. Despite a lull in denuclearization talks, a crisis could revisit the peninsula anytime. It is not wise for the government to take a dangerous step in such a situation.

The Seoul-Tokyo ties, which showed some signs of improvement after a summit in December, will certainly get worse. Japan will likely take further retaliatory measures against Korea, which will help freeze the relations and damage our economy.

If the government brings Gsomia to an end, it creates a serious loophole in our security given the competitive military information assets Japan has — such as satellites, Aegis destroyers, ground-based radar and Awacs aircraft. It does not make sense for the government to end Gsomia. If it aims to rally support ahead of the election by fueling anti-Japan sentiment, it is a wrong choice.

The Moon administration must not put an end to the deal. It must tackle Japan’s unfair export restrictions in other ways. If it nevertheless takes the wrong path, that is same as risking our security for domestic political gains.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 13, Page 30