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Editorial: Continuous efforts needed to maintain Japan-S. Korea security pact

The Japan-South Korea General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) is feared to expire this weekend. The expiration of the bilateral pact could hurt security cooperation between Tokyo and Seoul.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in earlier suggested to U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper that sharing military information with Japan, which imposed export controls on South Korea on the basis that Tokyo did not trust Seoul over security issues, was "difficult," emphasizing that Japan is at fault for the anticipated expiration of GSOMIA.

According to various opinion polls conducted in South Korea, those who support their government's decision to scrap the bilateral accord outnumber those who oppose it. The dominant view among South Koreans is that the export restrictions imposed by Japan were "illegitimate" and that it is only natural for their government to take countermeasures against Tokyo's action.

Such a view is at odds with Japan's position that export controls and GSOMIA are separate issues. The Moon administration appears to believe that the South Korean people will understand if Seoul scraps the security pact with Tokyo.

However, the expiration of the bilateral agreement will deal a major blow to both countries.

Both Tokyo and Washington have strongly demanded that Seoul maintains the pact. GSOMIA not only allows smooth cooperation between military authorities, it is also a framework that displays -- on the domestic and global stages -- Japan, U.S. and South Korea uniting together to counter North Korea.

The Moon administration seeks to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula through easing tensions between the South and North and has adopted policies accordingly. Pyongyang, however, has not taken any concrete actions toward denuclearization, and Seoul's conciliatory attitude has not yet paid off.

If South Korea goes ahead and scraps the bilateral accord despite these circumstances, it will send a message to the North that Tokyo, Washington and Seoul are walking out of step. It could also work in favor of China, which seeks to weaken the tri-party cooperation.

South Korea had been wary of forming a security partnership with Japan and it took several years before Seoul signed the agreement. Once expired, it will not be easy for the two neighboring countries to seal the pact again.

South Korean experts including those on foreign policy as well as security are calling for the withdrawal of Seoul's decision, in order to prevent the expiration of GSOMIA from negatively affecting the South Korea-U.S. alliance. Continuous efforts should be made toward keeping the agreement intact until the very end.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has emphasized that intelligence that can be acquired from South Korea through GSOMIA is only "supplementary." That being said, information from the neighboring country should be welcomed in times Japan needs to quickly counter North Korea's provocative actions and for in-depth analysis of Pyongyang.

A mountain of issues lies between Tokyo and Seoul, including Japan's compensation for wartime labor exploitation. The only path toward resolving these issues is continuous dialogue between the two neighbors.

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