South Korea and Japan were set to sign the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) on June 30. But South Korea put off the date at the last moment. What factors are pushing the two together? Why did South Korea delay the signing at the last moment? Global Times (GT) reporter Fu Qiang invited Su Hao (Su), director of the Asia-Pacific Research Center at China Foreign Affairs University, Kiyul Chung (Chung), a visiting South Korean professor at Tsinghua University and editor-in-chief of website the 4th Media, and Kay Shimizu (Shimizu), an assistant professor at the Department of Political Science, Columbia University, to talk about these issues.
GT: From your point of view, why did South Korea and Japan start talks on the GSOMIA?
Shimizu: My understanding that the primary reason for the military information agreement is to serve as a deterrent to North Korea and to improve cooperation between Japan and South Korea. Such a pact would be a historic post-war first of its kind.
The US government also strongly encouraged the signing of the agreement, as the agreement is not only for sharing information, but also has a heavy emphasis on protecting national security secrets including classified data.
Su: The GSOMIA will be a breakthrough in Japan-South Korea relations once it is signed. Actually, the US and Japan have promoted a trilateral military alliance.
The US is a leading force to promote this trilateral military alliance and Japan acts as the main driving force in this process. Besides, North Korea's missile project and its nuclear experiments have put South Korea under pressure.
The cooperative bond between China and North Korea, and even the bond among China, Russia and North Korea may add to South Korea's feeling of being threatened. The on-going trilateral cooperation among South Korea, Japan and the US is "indirectly" targeted against China.
Chung: Threats from North Korea's missile project and China, as usual and as it's always been, are the typical justifications for the manufactured reasons the US-led South Korean and Japanese trilateral military alliance needs for their military and strategic goals in Northeast Asia.
It's part of the continued US-led military encirclement and "divide and conquer" strategy against China, Russia and North Korea.
GT: What drove South Korea to delay the signing of the agreement?
Su: Questions left over by history and the territorial disputes between South Korea and Japan make it hard for the two countries to build mutual trust.
South Korea has tight economic and trade cooperation with China. It has to consider Sino-South Korean relations when deciding to tighten military bonds with Japan.
And South Korea is not willing to weaken its bilateral relations with China because of its signing of the GSOMIA with Japan.
South Korea is more willing to act as a "bridge" between the big powers. For Sino-US relations and Sino-Japanese relations, South Korea does not want to be partial to any side but to have an independent autonomous diplomatic policy.
In this sense, both the negotiations and the putting off of the GSOMIA can be regarded as South Korea's test of the international community's and domestic parties' reactions toward its cooperation with Japan.
Shimizu: The primary reason for the postponement is most likely a deliberate political show by those politicians concerned about the outcome of the presidential election that will be held in South Korea in December.
Of course, the underlying reason for such hesitation is the lingering historical issues between Japan and South Korea.
South Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade appears to have been caught in this political tug of war.
GT: How should the Chinese government react to this issue?
Su: China should stick to a stance of clear opposition to the signing of any such agreement. If Japan and South Korea do sign such a military agreement, this action may stimulate North Korea to seek tighter cooperation with both Russia and China.
This means the military competition on the Korean Peninsula may get more heated, and the regional security situation may go back to the standoff that formed during the Cold War period.
Relations between China and South Korea will also go backward as military connections between Japan and South Korea grow.
Besides this opposition, China, as South Korea's largest trade partner, should further emphasize trade and economic cooperation with South Korea and apply political pressure in order to persuade South Korea to shift its stance on cooperation with Japan.
GT: Do you think it's possible for South Korea and Japan to re-start the talks on the GSOMIA?
Su: The GSOMIA has received a strong wave of criticism from various parties in South Korea. So personally, I think this agreement will be postponed indefinitely.
GT: A trilateral dialogue involving India, Japan and South Korea was held on June 29 in . Compared with the trilateral dialogue among US, Japan, and South Korea, how do you see Japan and South Korea's discussions with India?
Su: Both the trilateral dialogue of the US, South Korea and Japan, and the trilateral talks of India, South Korea and Japan can be regarded as an encirclement strategy by the US.
The US needs a tighter bond between Japan and South Korea due to the security consideration. So it pushes these trilateral dialogues and hopes to improve relations through these talks.
Shimizu: While trilateral cooperation between India, South Korea and Japan certainly has potential, this particular combination of countries would be breaking new ground, and would require much more time and effort on the part of all three countries.
Certainly, China's neighbors and the US are all concerned about China's activities in the South China Sea, but domestic political upheaval in Japan and upcoming elections in South Korea and the US seem to be bigger and more immediately urgent issues for these countries.