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Tsutomu Nishioka

【#635】Continuing Anti-Japan/U.S. Sentiments despite GSOMIA Extension

Tsutomu Nishioka / 2019.11.28 (Thu)

November 25, 2019

On November 22, South Korea’s Moon Jae In government announced the conditional suspension of its earlier decision to terminate the defense intelligence sharing agreement with Japan, known as GSOMIA or General Security of Military Information Agreement. It also offered to withdraw its petition filed with the World Trade Organization against Japan’s toughened control on strategic exports to South Korea. Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry for its part stated that it would conduct director-general level talks with Seoul on the export control as Seoul indicated its willingness to improve its trade control regime. At the same time, the ministry reaffirmed the position that GSOMIA had nothing to do with the export control issue.

Moon regime addicted to false announcements

Japan has agreed to consider withdrawing the tougher control on three strategic goods including hydrofluoric acid on condition that South Korea appropriately treat the strategic goods, according to reports from Seoul. The agreement is consistent with Japan’s previous position on the matter. Japan toughened the control because South Korea was suspected to have resold the strategic goods imported from Japan to third countries including terrorism-sponsoring states and failed to hold working-level talks with Japan on the adequate export control since the Moon regime’s inauguration. If Seoul specifies measures to correct the export control at future director-general level talks, Tokyo may withdraw its earlier decision to toughen the control.

On November 24, the Moon government unilaterally announced Tokyo apologized as Seoul protested that Japan’s statement on South Korea’s willingness to improve the export control arrangements was not true. In an immediate rebuttal to the unilateral announcement, the Japanese government claimed that it had coordinated with the South Koreans on the statement in advance. The Moon government announcement was false, reminding me that soon after Seoul announced that Washington understood the decision to repeal GSOMIA in August, Washington protested that the announcement was not true.

As of August, in the first place, South Korea’s Foreign and Defense Ministries had opposed the proposal for repealing GSOMIA. However, President Moon made the decision on his own to terminate the agreement. He apparently intended to give himself an edge in next April’s general election by instigating anti-Japan sentiments. Many former revolutionaries lining up in the South Korean presidential office wish to withdraw South Korea from the trilateral Japan, U.S. and South Korea military alliance.

Wartime worker issue remains unsettled

As Washington exerted strong pressure on Seoul by warning that the GSOMIA termination would hurt U.S. security interests and was expected to impose economic sanctions on South Korea, however, the Moon government gave up on repealing GSOMIA. Nevertheless, an opinion poll shows that 51% of South Korean citizens support the GSOMIA termination while only 29% oppose it. Therefore, the latest decision to suspend the termination could add fuel to not only anti-Japan sentiments but also anti-U.S. sentiments.

Most of mass media having opposed the GSOMIA termination wrote that both Tokyo and Seoul were responsible for the dispute, pursuing Japan’s responsibility for the dispute. As for the fundamental cause of the dispute, that is the South Korean Supreme Court’s ruling in October 2018 that ordered a Japanese company to pay compensations to wartime Korean workers in Japan, dominant media arguments in South Korea have criticized Japan for asking South Korean government to handle the Supreme Court ruling properly.

Meanwhile, a conservative group that names itself as a “national revolution” group and is campaigning for ousting the Moon government has made a right argument that the government should withdraw its position of respecting the Supreme Court ruling, which runs counter to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, and should take domestic measures to protect the Japanese company’s private assets. The fight between the right argument and the instigation of anti-Japan sentiments has not ended.

Tsutomu Nishioka is a senior fellow and a Planning Committee member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and a visiting professor at Reitaku University. He covers South and North Koreas.