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Poll says Koreans aren’t keen on Gsomia pact

Aug 09,2019
A poll Wednesday showed that more Koreans are in favor of scrapping an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan than those who want to maintain it.

Pollster Realmeter on Tuesday conducted a nationwide survey of 502 adults above the age of 19, which showed that 47.7 percent of the people polled were in favor of scrapping the General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia), in comparison to 39.3 percent who were against abandoning the bilateral pact. Others were undecided or did not respond.

In response to Japan’s trade restrictions on Korea, the Moon Jae-in administration has been reviewing “all options,” including not renewing the Gsomia.

The bilateral Gsomia was signed in November 2016 and is renewed automatically each year. If either of the two countries wants to scrap the pact, it must inform the other 90 days in advance, and the deadline to raise an objection is Aug. 24. The Seoul-Tokyo Gsomia also plays an important role in trilateral security cooperation with Washington. The two countries previously attempted to sign the controversial Gsomia pact in 2012, but the Lee Myung-bak administration pulled out last minute.

After Japan’s removal of Korea from a so-called white list of countries receiving preferential treatment in trade on Friday, some lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) demanded the government not renew the intelligence-sharing pact with Japan later this month.

Sul Hoon, a fourth-term lawmaker from the DP, demanded the “immediate scrapping” of the Gsomia with Japan during a party meeting Monday and called for a notification to Tokyo on Aug. 15, which marks the liberation of Korea from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule.

“Japan distrusts Korea and rejected us as a security partner, hence there is no reason to maintain the Gsomia,” Sul said, adding that Japan should be notified of this on Aug. 15 “to send a meaningful message and warning from our people.”

Chung Eui-yong, director of the Blue House National Security Office, said in a parliamentary steering committee meeting Tuesday on the issue of the Gsomia, “There is a need to review whether it is possible and appropriate for countries with mutually contradictory positions to continue sharing sensitive military information.”

Chung also revealed at the National Assembly that Korea and Japan exchanged information five times this year through the Gsomia, JTBC reported Wednesday, citing a lawmaker who attended the meeting. Four of the occasions were in the last few weeks, as North Korea tested missiles. The two countries shared information on Tuesday, after North Korea’s latest short-range missile launches.

Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo in a National Assembly defense committee meeting Monday likewise said that the government has been “seriously reviewing” whether or not to renew the Gsomia.

Jeong also revealed that even on Aug. 2, the day Japan announced its decision to remove Korea from its trading partner white list, intelligence was exchanged between Seoul and Tokyo through the Gsomia on Pyongyang’s launching of short-range missiles. He noted that it was Japan who requested information in that instance.

New U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper is on a trip to Asia that will bring him to Seoul Friday for talks with his Korean counterpart, Jeong, where he may urge maintaining the Gsomia with Japan.

On Tuesday en route to Tokyo, Esper said, “I would honestly encourage […] the intel-sharing to continue. It’s key to us in our common defense, if you will, against North Korea.” He added he would ask Seoul and Tokyo “to both resolve this issue quickly and let’s really focus on North Korea and China.”

Esper held talks with Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya Wednesday during a visit to Tokyo, and the Gsomia issue was discussed. Iwaya was quoted by Kyodo News as telling reporters after the talks that the two defense chiefs agreed on the importance of three-way cooperation with South Korea to address threats from North Korea including an intelligence-sharing pact between Tokyo and Seoul.

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