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South Korea ends intelligence-sharing pact with Japan amid trade war

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South Korea is ending its intelligence-sharing pact with Japan in a dramatic escalation of the two countries’ trade war. It is a move that could strip Japan of vital information about North Korea’s nuclear program.

South Korea’s National Security Council decided to end the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) after an hour-long meeting on Thursday, Reuters reported, adding that President Moon Jae-in personally approved the plan.

The GSOMIA was due to be automatically renewed this Saturday unless one side canceled it, Reuters and South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

Moon in Gangneung, South Korea, in February 2018.
Jae C. Hong/AP

The South Korean presidency blamed Japan for the termination of the deal, citing a “trust issue” it had created in the two countries’ bilateral security relations, Yonhap reported.

Kim You-geun, the deputy director South Korea’s National Security Council, noted in a Thursday statement that Japan had on August 2 dropped South Korea from its list of favored trading partners “without providing clear ground.”

This, he said, led to a “grave change in security cooperation circumstances between the two nations,” Yonhap reported.

South Korea also dropped Japan from its export whitelist ten days after Tokyo’s decision, and created an entirely new country category to punish Japan economically.

Those moves mean that Japanese and South Korean exporters of “strategic” goods will now have to go through additional screening to sell abroad.

Read more: South Korea created a new category of country specifically to punish Japan in their escalating trade war

A truck drives between shipping containers at a container terminal at Incheon port, South Korea, in May 2016.
Kim Hong-ji/Reuters

The decision to terminate the GSOMIA came shortly after Japan and South Korea’s foreign ministers met in Beijing on Wednesday and Thursday, but failed to achieve a breakthrough, Yonhap and Reuters reported.

They have, however, promised to continue talking.

“Although ties between Japan and South Korea are in a very tough situation, we believe we should cooperate with South Korea where cooperation is necessary,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Thursday, shortly before Seoul’s announcement to end GSOMIA, Reuters reported.

Abe in Fukushima, Japan, in October 2017.
REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Japan and South Korea have had tense relations since at least 1910, when Japan colonized South Korea and ruled it with an iron fist until 1945.

Tensions bubbled to the surface late last year when the South Korean Supreme Court ordered Japanese companies to compensate Korean laborers who were forced to work for them during World War II.

The Japanese government maintains it settled all colonial-era debts in a 1965 pact, and many Japanese companies refused to comply with the court’s order.

Read more: South Korea and Japan’s trade war has gotten so bad that some South Korean gas stations are refusing to refuel Japanese-made cars

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (center) at a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono (left), South Korean Foreign Minister (second-left), and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (second-right) in Beijing, China, on Thursday. Japan and South Korea failed to make headway in this meeting.
How Hwee Young/Pool via Reuters

Why ending the intelligence pact is a big deal

GSOMIA went into effect in November 2016, and was apparently created out of the US’s strong encouragement, Yonhap and the Associated Press (AP) reported.

The intelligence pact sped up information exchange between the two countries, which previously only exchanged information via the US, the AP reported. The US has separate security pacts with both Japan and South Korea, which officials say won’t be affected, according to Yonhap.

All three countries have an interest in maintaining security cooperation as China continues to expand its military and naval power in the region, and North Korea’s nuclear program continues to be a threat.

North Korea has long used missile tests to make threats against South Korea, with many of the projectiles landing in the Sea of Japan.

Kim Jong Un’s regime completed six missile tests within the space of a month this summer to protest against the US and South Korea’s joint military drills.

Images of North Korea’s missile launch shown on TV at the Seoul Railway Station in South Korea on July 25, 2019.
Ahn Young-joon/AP

The US has repeatedly urged its two Asian partners to resolve their differences.

Lt. Col. Dave Eastburn, a spokesman for the US Department of Defense, said according to Yonhap and Reuters: “We encourage Japan and Korea to work together to resolve their differences. I hope they can do this quickly.”

“We are all stronger — and Northeast Asia is safer — when the United States, Japan and Korea work together in solidarity and friendship,” he added. “Intel-sharing is key to developing our common defense policy and strategy.”

The US has a total of 80,000 troops in South Korea and Japan combined, according to the AP.

Ankit Panda, a security expert and adjunct senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, told The New York Times: “We’re going to lose an important source of information-sharing between our two allies at a very dangerous time.”

“I think the two countries can be fairly described as adversaries now,” he added. “In Seoul, the idea is if we can do something that will hurt Japan more than it will hurt us, then it’s worth doing.”

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