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Seoul to Keep Japan Intel Pact         11/22 06:15

   In a major policy reversal, South Korea said Friday it has decided to 
continue, at least temporarily, a 2016 military intelligence-sharing agreement 
with Japan that it previously said it would terminate amid ongoing tensions 
over wartime history and trade.

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- In a major policy reversal, South Korea said 
Friday it has decided to continue, at least temporarily, a 2016 military 
intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan that it previously said it would 
terminate amid ongoing tensions over wartime history and trade.

   The announcement, made just six hours before the agreement was to expire, 
followed a strong U.S. push to save the pact, which has been a major symbol of 
the countries' three-way security cooperation in the face of North Korea's 
nuclear threat and China's growing influence.

   The office of South Korean President Moon Jae-in said it decided to suspend 
the effect of the three months' notice it gave in August to terminate the 
agreement after Tokyo agreed to reopen talks on settling their trade dispute.

   But Kim You-geun, deputy director of South Korea's presidential national 
security office, said the move was based on the premise that South Korea could 
end the arrangement at any time, tying it to the outcome of future negotiations 
with Japan.

   Kim also said South Korea decided to halt a complaint it filed with the 
World Trade Organization over Japan's tightened controls on exports of key 
chemicals that South Korean companies use to make computer chips and displays.

   Japan's trade ministry said it decided to resume discussions with South 
Korea on their dispute over the export controls after Seoul informed it of its 
plan to halt its WTO action. Yoichi Iida, a Japanese trade official, said Tokyo 
has no immediate plan to ease the controls.

   "Coordination and cooperation between Japan and South Korea, and trilateral 
cooperation among Japan, the U.S. and South Korea, are extremely important in 
our response to North Korea," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said. "That's 
the point we have made repeatedly. I believe South Korea made its decision from 
such a strategic perspective."

   South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said Seoul considered its 
relations and cooperation with the United States before deciding to extend the 
agreement with Japan. She said the decision "buys some more time" to settle the 
trade dispute.

   A senior South Korean presidential official, who refused to be named during 
a background briefing, said he expects the talks with Japanese officials to 
also include discussions on Tokyo's decision to remove South Korea from a list 
of favored trading partners, which Seoul wants reversed.

   The military agreement is automatically extended every year unless either 
country notifies the other 90 days in advance of its intention to terminate it, 
a deadline that fell in August.

   Washington had no immediate reaction to Seoul's announcement.

   Most South Korean analysts had anticipated that the Moon government would 
let the agreement expire, saying there was no clear way for Seoul to renew it 
without losing face.

   Some saw the Trump administration's public demands for South Korea to 
reverse the key diplomatic decision as a profound lack of respect for an ally.

   The squabble over the Seoul-Tokyo pact came at a delicate time for the 
alliance between the United States and South Korea. The two countries have 
struggled to deal with North Korea's growing nuclear and missile threat while 
squabbling over defense costs.

   In a rare public display of discord between the allies, U.S. negotiators on 
Wednesday cut short a Seoul meeting with South Korean officials over 
disagreements on how much South Korea should increase its contribution to 
covering the costs of maintaining the American military presence on its soil. 
South Korean officials say the administration of President Donald Trump has 
been demanding a "drastic" increase that they find unacceptable.

   There's also concern that Trump, after already suspending major U.S.-South 
Korean military exercises he described as "ridiculous and expensive," may seek 
to reduce the U.S. military presence in South Korea to accommodate a deal with 
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

   South Korea's August declaration that it would terminate the General 
Security of Military Intelligence Agreement, or GSOMIA, with Japan came shortly 
after Tokyo removed its neighbor from a "white list" of countries receiving 
preferential treatment in trade.

   South Korea saw Tokyo's move, which followed the strengthened controls on 
technology exports to South Korea, as retaliation over political disputes 
stemming from Japan's use of Koreans for forced labor before the end of World 
War II.

   But following unusually blunt criticism from Washington, which said Seoul's 
decision could hurt the security of its Asian allies and increase risks to U.S. 
troops stationed there, South Korea said it could continue the military 
agreement if Japan restores its status as a favored trade partner.

   It seemed neither country was ready to budge from its position after 
last-minute meetings between their diplomats and military officials over the 
past week ended without any apparent breakthrough.

   Go Myong-Hyun, an analyst at the Seoul-based Asan Institute for Policy 
Studies, said South Korea was pressured by the United States to make a decision 
that nonetheless benefits its security. However, it's clear Seoul and Tokyo 
aren't fully out of the woods in their dispute, he said.

   It's unclear whether Japan will make major concessions on trade unless the 
countries find a way to settle disputes over South Korean court rulings that 
Japanese companies must provide reparations to aging South Korean plaintiffs 
for forced labor during World War II, which probably won't be soon.

   Tokyo insists that all compensation matters were settled by a 1965 treaty 
that normalized relations between the countries and accuses Seoul of 
continuously reopening the book on the issues. But it's hard for South Korea's 
government to make major concessions on history issues because of heightened 
public resentment of Japan's brutal colonial rule of Korea from 1910 to 1945.

   "If these aren't resolved, Japan will pressure South Korea again and South 
Korea will talk about (the termination) of GSOMIA again," Go said.

   South Korea's decision to keep the GSOMIA alive will almost certainly 
trigger a furious reaction from North Korea, which has accelerated its missile 
tests in recent months while continuing to expand its ability to strike targets 
in South Korea and Japan.

   Some experts have said the decision could also provoke Beijing, which 
suspended Chinese group tours to South Korea and took other retaliatory 
measures after South Korea agreed to host a new U.S. anti-missile system in 

   It took years for the United States to persuade South Korea and Japan to 
sign the GSOMIA, which was designed to facilitate direct intelligence-sharing 
between the Asian U.S. allies.

   The agreement, which complemented a three-way 2014 deal that allowed Seoul 
and Tokyo to pass information on North Korea's nuclear weapons and missiles via 
Washington, was seen as a major symbol of cooperation in coping with the 
growing North Korean threat and balancing China's growing influence.

   GSOMIA made it easier for South Korea to access information gathered by 
Japan's intelligence satellites, radar, patrol planes and other high-tech 
systems, which are critical for analyzing North Korean missile tests and 

   For Japan, the agreement with South Korea had value because its military 
sensors are positioned to detect North Korean launches sooner, and also because 
of information the country gathers from spies, North Korean defectors and other 
human sources.

   Visiting Seoul last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the 
agreement allows fast and effective information exchanges between the three 
countries which would be crucial in times of war. He said friction between the 
two U.S. allies would only benefit North Korea and China.


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