Japan and South Korea took fresh swipes at one another Sunday, raising questions about whether relations between the U.S. allies would improve after they reached a last-minute deal Friday to rescue an expiring intelligence-sharing pact.
Late Sunday Japan rejected a South Korean complaint over the wording of an announcement that the two sides would hold talks on a dispute over export controls.
Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry wrote on Twitter that the announcement had been in line with prior discussions with South Korea, after Seoul accused Tokyo of intentionally leaking and distorting information about the agreement.
South Korea on Friday suspended its plan to pull out of the intelligence-sharing pact, known as the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), and said it would temporarily withdraw a complaint it made against Japan at the World Trade Organization. The developments marked a rare reversal in tensions that have plunged to new depths in recent years and spilled over to impact trade and tourism.
The foreign ministers of the two countries then agreed at a meeting in Nagoya on Saturday to work toward a summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in on the sidelines of a trilateral meeting with China next month.
Then, on Sunday, the South Korean presidential office expressed deep regret over the Japanese government’s handling of the joint announcement on GSOMIA. It accused Tokyo of not abiding by the agreed timing for their joint statements and objected to some of its characterization of South Korea’s positions.
The pact was set to formally cease at 12 a.m. Saturday, three months after South Korea moved to end the deal amid a history-laden dispute with Japan. The three-year-old pact was seen as important because it demonstrated the neighbors’ ability to cooperate independently from Washington to counter shared threats including China and North Korea.
The decision to save GSOMIA — which had been a key focus of U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper during a trip to Asia over the past week — was quickly applauded by the Pentagon.
The Pentagon had warned that allowing the pact to end would “increase risk” to some 80,000 U.S. troops stationed in the two countries, while Esper said in Seoul that the only ones benefiting from friction between Japan and South Korea were “Pyongyang and Beijing.”
North Korea has reminded all three of the risks, test-firing a series of new ballistic missiles since May that weapons experts have said could deliver a nuclear warhead to all of South Korea and most of Japan.