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U.S. still pushing for Korea, Japan to uphold Gsomia

Comes amid concerns that Seoul is thinking about scrapping pact
Feb 20,2020
The U.S. State Department again signaled the importance of South Korea and Japan maintaining a bilateral intelligence-sharing pact, stressing the importance of trilateral security cooperation.

A U.S. State Department official told the Voice of America Tuesday, “We will continue to pursue bilateral and trilateral security cooperation with [South Korea] and Japan, in recognition of our shared interests.”

The remarks come amid reports of renewed considerations by Seoul officials on scrapping its General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) with Tokyo as the two countries continue to struggle to resolve their trade spat and historical issues.

The official said, “The United States strongly believes that defense and security issues should remain separate from other areas of the [South Korea]-Japan relationship.”

Washington encourages Seoul and Tokyo “to continue sincere discussions to ensure a lasting solution to historic issues,” the official added.

However, there was no mention of Japan’s trade restrictions on South Korea - which was what triggered Seoul’s initial decision to terminate Gsomia last August.

Japan announced restrictions on the export to South Korea of three materials used to manufacture semiconductors and displays last July and the following month removed South Korea from its so-called white list of most trusted trading partners. Tokyo claimed there had been a breach of trust between the two countries and suggested the restrictions were due to security concerns. But the export measures are actually seen as retaliation against the South Korean Supreme Court rulings in late 2018 ordering Japanese companies to compensate victims of forced labor during World War II.

Hours before its expiry in November, Seoul said it will conditionally keep Gsomia in the spirit of negotiations with Japan to resolve their trade issues but added it could terminate the deal at any time. Washington for months has been especially vociferous in pushing for the maintaining of Gsomia, which it views as symbolic of trilateral security cooperation.

The State Department official also called on North Korea to “avoid provocations,” abide by UN Security Council resolutions and “return to sustained and substantive negotiations to do its part to achieve complete denuclearization.”

The Gsomia issue may be raised in talks between South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper in Washington scheduled for next week.

After a meeting between South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference in Germany Saturday, the U.S. State Department stressed that “trilateral cooperation is essential to ensuring stability and peace in the region” and a key part of its Indo-Pacific strategy, seen as the Donald Trump administration’s policy to try to contain China’s rise in the region.

The South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs only said the three envoys discussed “trilateral collaboration” on North Korean denuclearization as well as other regional and global issues including the novel coronavirus and the situation in the Middle East.

Kang and Motegi in separate bilateral talks Saturday discussed the trade restrictions and forced labor issue, but no further progress was made in resolving either problem. Kang urged Motegi to take more “tangible and sincere measures” toward withdrawing the export restrictions.

A Realmeter survey Monday showed that 44.9 percent of those polled were in favor of the termination of Gsomia, while 37.9 percent were opposed. The remaining were undecided or did not respond. A similar poll conducted on Nov. 18 last year had 55.4 percent in favor of terminating Gsomia and 33.2 percent for maintaining it.

Opposition lawmakers during a parliamentary foreign affairs committee meeting Tuesday asked Kang about the current lack of progress in negotiations with Japan.

“We are having broad discussions on resolving the Supreme Court decisions on the forced labor issues and hold the principle that we have to enable a future-oriented relationship and cooperate in areas where we can,” Kang said.

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