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Time for a prudent approach

July 23,2019
In an alarming development, the deepening South Korea-Japan conflict over Tokyo’s trade restrictions on Seoul is poised to affect the South Korea-U.S. alliance after Chung Eui-yong, director of the National Security Office, raised the possibility of reconsidering the General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) — a bilateral military intelligence-sharing agreement — with Japan. Most surprised was the United States. U.S. President Donald Trump hurriedly sent his National Security Adviser John Bolton to Tokyo and Seoul. Following a trip to Tokyo on Monday, Bolton will discuss the Gsomia with Chung in Seoul today. The move reflects the severity of the issue, as the South Korea-Japan row over trade and history can adversely affect security on the Peninsula.

The Gsomia between Seoul and Tokyo is very important because the South Korea-U.S. joint defense system is based on the agreement. That’s why the U.S. government requested its two core allies sign it. Despite an alleged lack of intelligence exchanges between South Korea and Japan in the past, the agreement plays a critical role in times of crisis, such as North Korea’s missile launches or nuclear threats. Yet some people in the Moon Jae-in administration made light of the accord.

The result of Japan’s analysis of the North’s sixth nuclear test and ballistic missile launches in 2017 was quite different from that of South Korea and the United States. That means Japan has acquired lots of sensitive information on North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles thanks to a number of radar stations along its west coast and five spy satellites.

In a contingency on the peninsula, Gsomia plays a crucial part in preparing for — and responding to — North Korean provocation. The United States is supposed to send military equipment and logistics through U.S. bases in Japan, not to mention ground troops and marine forces deployed in Okinawa, Japan. That’s not all. If North Korea mines the high seas on the East and South Sea to block U.S. reinforcements from entering the peninsula, Japan’s Maritime Self-defense Force can remove the mines, if necessary. The maintenance of the F-35 stealth fighters our Air Force is introducing will also be done in Japan.

Such tactics are possible when they are backed by shared military information. The absence of Gsomia creates a huge loophole in defending South Korea. Yet Chung frivolously mentioned a possible revocation of the information-sharing agreement. That can critically shake the South Korea-U.S. alliance. We urge the government to approach the issue very prudently.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 23, Page 30