South Korea announced Thursday it would not renew a pact with Japan to share military intelligence. Signed in 2006 the pact allowed the two US allies to directly share classified military information.
The General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia), signed between Japan and South Korea in 2016, was aimed to share information about North Korea's nuclear and missile capacity.
Seoul said it was no longer in its national interest to continue sharing confidential information with its neighbor during a sharp deterioration in ties.
“It is a pro-forma agreement that South Korea has with some 20 countries. It provides the protocol to share sensitive, classified information,” says Daniel Pinkston, a lecturer on international relations with Troy University in Seoul.
“If there is some sensitive data, for instance radar tracking data from a North Korean missile launch, that under this agreement can be shared directly.
This is now impossible. “If there is a situation in the future that needs sharing of intelligence, this is now problematic because they can't do it. There is a workaround with the US as an intermediary, but it is cumbersome and can be inefficient and time consuming.
Tokyo said it would "strongly" protest the move and urged South Korea to reconsider.
According to Pinkston, Seoul's latest step is part of deteriorating relations between Seoul and Tokyo,” says, “a symptom of rough bilateral relations.”
Relations between Japan and Korea were never very friendly. Between 1910 and 1945, the peninsula was a Japanese colony. During the Second World War, the Japanese army used thousands of South Korean women as sex slaves, euphemistically called “comfort women,” but, in the eyes of Seoul, never properly apologized for it.
Apart from bad memories over an unresolved past, relations keep on being hampered by a territorial dispute over the Dokdo or Tekeshima islets group in the Japan sea, claimed by both countries.
In 2015, Japan and South Korea set up the “Reconciliation and Healing Foundation” to "finally and irreversibly" settle the issue over Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery under the 1910-45 Japanese occupation of the Korean Peninsula.
But in July, the South-Korean government dissolved the foundation after criticism by victims and civic groups who said that Japan had failed to sincerely apologize and take legal responsibility for the wartime atrocities.
Japan reacted angrily and imposed tighter regulations of exports to South Korea of certain materials used in semiconductors and displays, claiming that the reason for the move was for national security.
“It affects the supply chain of big firms like Samsung,” says Pinkston. “The Japanese government says it is because of lack of security measures by South Korea,” making South Korea a “national security risk” for Japan. On August 2, to revoke South Korea's preferential trade status, citing “security concerns,” to take effect on August 28. “This issue was not resolved diplomatically, so (the decision to not renew the Gsomia) was the answer of the Moon administration,” he says.
Meanwhile North Korea is likely to welcome the move. Over the last year, there was a significant thaw between Pyongyang and Seoul, facilitated by two top-level meetings between US president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jung-Un, and three meetings between Kim and South Korean president Moon Jae-In.
“It is a kind of win for them,” says Pinkston, pointing out that it won't change much in the overall relationship between the two Korea's.
“I don't think we will see real results” in reconciliation negotiations, because it would require a “fundamental change” in North Korea's ideology. The overall position did not change and I expect the tensions to come back at some point,” he says.