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Sharing military intel with Japan 'difficult,' Moon tells visiting U.S. defense chief

Kyodo

South Korean President Moon Jae-in told visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Friday it is difficult for Seoul to share military intelligence with Japan, while vowing to make continued efforts toward security cooperation among the three countries, according to the presidential Blue House.

At their annual Security Consultative Meeting, Moon explained his government’s decision in August to not renew the military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, Blue House spokeswoman Ko Min-jung said.

The General Security of Military Information Agreement, or GSOMIA, expires at midnight on Nov. 22.

“President Moon explained our stance regarding GSOMIA that it is difficult to exchange military information with Japan, which has imposed export curbs on South Korea for security reasons,” Ko said.

Esper, in response, said he would ask Japan to make efforts to settle the issue in an amicable way, she said.

At a news conference earlier in the day with Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo, Esper called on Seoul to renew the deal, saying its termination would only benefit North Korea and China.

The two defense chiefs signaled they were in agreement that the pact is important from a national security standpoint.

“GSOMIA is an important tool by which South Korea, the U.S. and Japan share effective information, particularly in times of war. Expiration of GSOMIA will have an impact on our effectiveness, so we urge all sides to sit down and work through their differences,” Esper said.

The Pentagon chief added that just the prospect of North Korea and China benefiting from GSOMIA’s expiration should be enough for Seoul and Tokyo to sit down and restore ties.

Jeong, in his remarks, repeated South Korea’s position that the decision to terminate the pact could be reconsidered if Japan reverses its decision on tightening the export controls, which was implemented in July.

“I hope we have good discussions with Japan in a positive direction while we still have time, so we can keep GSOMIA,” Jeong added.

GSOMIA has allowed Japan and South Korea — which have no formal military alliance but are both allies of the United States — to directly share sensitive intelligence, such as information about North Korean military activities related to nuclear weapons and missiles.

South Korea, which decided in August to let the pact lapse over the trade feud with Japan, has said the GSOMIA issue should be considered separately from South Korea-U.S. relations.

Also on the agenda at Friday’s annual Security Consultative Meeting between the two defense chiefs were continued negotiations on cost-sharing for U.S. military bases hosted by South Korea.

Esper, at the same news conference, said Seoul should pay more to support U.S. forces there because it is a wealthy country and is therefore able to shoulder a greater financial burden.

Jeong told reporters that the two confirmed that any new cost-sharing agreement should be fair and mutually agreeable.

Speaking to reporters en route to Asia on Wednesday, Esper said his message on the intelligence-sharing pact “will be very clear.”

“That is, the GSOMI Agreement must be maintained. And it’s critical to sharing intelligence, particularly in a timely manner with regard to any type of North Korean actions,” he said.

“And I will urge my fellow ministers to get beyond these issues, and let’s focus on how we partner as allies to deter North Korean bad behavior. And then, in the long term, deal with the Chinese,” he added.