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Defense chief sees no yielding in Japan stance

Nov 19,2019
Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said he sensed zero change in Japan’s attitude on their intelligence-sharing pact during a trilateral meeting that included U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Sunday, adding that the issue should be resolved between the governments of Seoul and Tokyo, not their militaries.

The comment was relayed during a press conference following a meeting participated in by Jeong, Esper and Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono on Sunday at the Avani+ Riverside Bangkok Hotel in Thailand.

The three-way talks were held on the sidelines of the Asean Defense Ministers’ Meeting-Plus, a gathering of defense ministers representing Asean and other countries.

Earlier on Sunday, Jeong and Kono held bilateral discussions, and Jeong told a press conference following that meeting that neither side compromised on the issue of the General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia).

It was not known as of press time Sunday, however, how the trilateral meeting involving Esper went.

Washington has been pressing Seoul not to leave Gsomia, saying the only winners in that decision would be Pyongyang, Beijing and Moscow.

I think Gsomia “is an issue that should be resolved between the governments [of Korea and Japan], not their militaries, and looking at the status quo, I don’t see any particular changes” in the attitudes of Seoul and Tokyo, Jeong told reporters on Sunday after his meeting with Kono and Esper.

Asked whether he thinks Gsomia will be allowed to expire this week, Jeong replied, “I hope it doesn’t, but there aren’t any changes” that would indicate otherwise.

“We’re diplomatically making a lot of efforts, so let’s wait and see some more,” he said.

Gsomia formally expires as of Friday midnight unless Korea recants its decision to walk away. Seoul announced on Aug. 22 it would withdraw from the pact following Tokyo’s removal of Korea from a list of preferred trading partners.

Signed in November 2016, Gsomia is renewed automatically every year unless either of the two countries decides to scrap the pact, in which case it must provide the other with at least a 90 days’ notice.

Seoul and Tokyo “share information through Gsomia after [Pyongyang’s] missile launches, not during the launches, so the [value] of the information shared isn’t as high as [people] think,” said Jeong.

The Korean defense chief continued that Gsomia had more of a “symbolic and strategic value” in the trilateral security partnership involving Seoul, Washington and Tokyo, which is why the United States wants Korea not to walk away from it.

“Towards the end of the meeting,” Jeong added, “Secretary Esper asked us and Japan to talk with our governments well so that Gsomia can be maintained.”

On how the United States would react if Korea withdraws from Gsomia later this week, Jeong said Washington would continuously push for the strengthening of the Seoul-Washington alliance and the Seoul-Washington-Tokyo security partnership, but at the same time, express “regret” over Korea’s decision to leave.

The Blue House made no gestures implying any change to its Gsomia stance on Monday, saying it would not extend the pact unless Tokyo “changes its attitude” first, which means Japan pulling back on its economic retaliations against Korea.

In a Realmeter poll published Monday, over half of Korean adults, 55.4 percent, said they hope Korea walks out of Gsomia, whereas 33.2 percent responded they hope Korea extends the agreement or remains in it.

The survey was held last Friday of 501 adults across the country, with a confidence level of 95 percent and a plus or minus 4.4-percentage-point margin of error.

The rate of Koreans wishing to leave Gsomia was higher than the previous poll on Nov. 6, when 48.3 percent said they hoped Korea would leave.

In that earlier poll, 37.6 percent of Koreans said Seoul should extend Gsomia.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, LEE KEUN-PYUNG, YONHAP [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]