South Korea, on Friday, decided to suspend its plans to quit an intelligence sharing pact with Japan amid pressure from the US. Previously, South Korea had decided to discontinue the intelligence pact called the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) by November 22, unless Japan decided to review its export control measures.
The idea to exchange intelligence between Japan and South Korea was first suggested by the latter in the 1980s. In 2012, the two countries were expected to sign GSOMIA, but it was not due to public outrage in South Korea against the agreement.
The need for GSOMIA was felt amidst a growing threat from North Korea, especially when it started conducting nuclear tests and developing ballistic missiles. The agreement was eventually signed in November 2016. The US’ interest in this agreement stems from its need to forge alliances in the northeast to be able to analyse and respond to any threats from North Korea. Significantly, it may be China’s perception that GSOMIA is an attempt by the US-Japan-South Korea trilateral alliance to contain Beijing, thereby maintaining a degree of opposition between this trilateral alliance and that of China-North Korea-Russia.
Korea is a former colony of Japan, a colonial rule that lasted for over 35 years, between 1910-1945. The Japanese rule is even today behind “anti-Japan” sentiment in Korea. After the division of North and South Korea in 1948, formal diplomatic relations between Japan and South Korea were established in 1965, with the signing of the Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of South Korea.
Significantly, both South Korea and Japan are US allies, but in recent years, the relationship between both countries has deteriorated, given the territorial dispute over the Dokdo islands — known as Takeshima in Japan. While South Korea controls them, the islands are claimed by Japan. Furthermore, the two countries have differing views on Imperial Japan’s treatment of Koreans, especially the forced labourers and “comfort women” or “sex slaves”. Japan maintains that South Korea’s claims for reparations and damages were settled with the 1965 treaty.
In July, Japan imposed export controls on three chemicals that South Korea uses in its important semiconductor industry and in August, Japan decided to remove South Korea from its “white list”, a fast track trade list of trusted partners. This is considered to be retaliation for South Korea’s decision to leave the intelligence pact, a decision that was made in August.
Commenting on the export controls, which is a sticking point between the two countries, an editorial published in the South Korean newspaper The Hankyoreh said, “It was Japan that imposed export controls on South Korea on the grounds that Korea is not a country that can be trusted for security reasons. It doesn’t make sense to receive critical security information from such a country. The South Korean government’s decision to end GSOMIA is an appropriate response to Japan’s unjustified economic retribution.”
While an editorial in the Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun expressed relief that South Korea has decided to stay in the pact, “With North Korea continuing to act up, it was truly unnecessary and foolish of Tokyo and Seoul to let their relationship deteriorate to the present low point. Now that the GSOMIA has been spared expiration, both countries must stop their downward spiral that has done nothing but harm to their citizens.”
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