On November 23, South Korea and Japan signed the General Security Of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), a military pact that will allow the two countries to share secret military information. The deal had been shelved indefinitely in 2012 due to overwhelming opposition by the South Korean people. This month, amidst widespread calls for the resignation of Park Geun-hye and her party, Park’s administration held three rounds of rushed negotiations with Japan to seal the controversial deal.

The two countries signed the deal behind closed doors and refused access to reporters. Reporters responded by putting down their cameras in silent protest as Japanese Ambassador to South Korea Yasumasa Nagamine entered the signing event.

 

ZoominKorea asked Oh Hyeran of Solidarity for Peace and Reunification in Korea (SPARK) to explain the significance of the deal in the context of U.S. plans for missile defense in the region.

 

Zoom: Please start by explaining what GSOMIA is.

Oh: This agreement allows the two countries to exchange classified military information with each other.

GSOMIA will determine how the two countries will exchange secret military intelligence as well as protect and manage the exchanged information.

It is the first military agreement between South Korea and Japan since Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial occupation in 1945. The agreement, signed by the South Korean Defense Ministry despite vehement opposition from 60% of South Korean citizens and the three main opposition parties, is absolutely of no help to South Korea and in fact will do more harm.

Civil society groups and opposition parties have pointed out that the agreement violates the sovereignty, security and national interests of South Korea and have declared it invalid. Civic groups and opposition parties are working together to put forth a motion on November 30 to dismiss Defense Minister Han Min-koo from his position.

Zoom: Why was the South Korean government in such a rush to sign the agreement? And what was the role of the United States in making this happen?

Oh: We cannot separate the issue of GSOMIA from the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system. GSOMIA and the THAAD deployment are critical links in U.S.’ plans for the South Korea-U.S.-Japan trilateral missile defense (MD) System.

On June 29, 2012, the former Lee Myung-bak administration attempted to sign the GSOMIA in secret. But just one hour before the official signing of the agreement, the Lee administration postponed the signing indefinitely. This was because the administration faced strong opposition from the South Korean people and the National Assembly.

On December 28, 2015, South Korea and Japan signed an agreement to “settle” the “comfort women” issue and essentially absolved Japan of its responsibility for its past war crime of forcing young women into sexual slavery for its imperial army during WWII. That agreement was intended to be a stepping stone for the completion of the GSOMIA. Then, in February 2016, South Korea and the United States began formal talks on the THAAD deployment, and they reached an agreement on July 8. This week, on November 23, South Korea and Japan signed the GSOMIA.

The United States has been exerting constant pressure on South Korea to accelerate THAAD deployment, and it’s hard to explain the rushed nature of the GSOMIA negotiations without suspecting pressure from the White House. In April 2016, President Obama spoke directly with President Park and requested the completion of GSOMIA before the year’s end. U.S. intention, it appears, is to push through as much as possible while Park still remains in office to complete the US-ROK missile defense and the trilateral alliance with Japan. It’s also possible that Park, faced with a crisis of legitimacy due to “Choi Soon-sil gate,” is embracing the U.S. request and aggressively pushing it forward in an attempt to safeguard her term in office.

Zoom: SPARK and other South Korean peace groups have said, “GSOMIA is a powerful institutional mechanism in the construction of the U.S.-Japan-South Korea trilateral missile defense (MD) system.” Please explain the relationship between GSOMIA and the U.S. MD system.

Oh: Key to Japan’s exercise of collective self-defense is the U.S.-Japan MD plan, which says in the event that China or North Korea attacks the United States or its forces in the Asia Pacific region with an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), Japan would intercept it. GSOMIA is aimed at linking the Japanese and South Korean MD systems and subordinating them to the U.S. MD system in Northeast Asia. It’s intended to enable the South Korean military to share with Japan early warning intelligence about North Korean ICBM’s aimed at the United States or Japan so that either the South Korean military or Japan’s Self Defense Force (SDF) can intercept them.

The primary aim of the U.S. THAAD system to be deployed in Seongju is to secure early warning intelligence about Chinese mid/long-range ICBMs. South Korea’s signing of GSOMIA and its participation in the U.S. MD system aimed at China and North Korea undermine its relationship with China and increase the threat of military conflict and war between North and South Korea.

Zoom: Even amidst widespread calls for the resignation of the Park Geun-hye administration and the dissolution of the Saenuri party, it appears the United States is behind pushing South Korea to press on with THAAD deployment and encouraging South Korea and Japan to sign the GSOMIA. What are your thoughts on this?

Oh: Much like the THAAD system, the military information that will be shared between South Korea and Japan about North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities as a result of GSOMIA is useful not for South Korea’s own defense but for the U.S.-Japan MD plan. In short, South Korea has almost nothing to gain, but it will have to relinquish exclusive access to its own military intelligence for the purpose of protecting Japan and U.S. interests and troops in the Asia Pacific region through the MD system.

It is only natural that many are critical of U.S. policies in Northeast Asia and the Korean peninsula as they undermine South Korea’s peace and security. The same goes for the Park administration. Even residents of Seongju and Gimcheon in North Gyeongsang province, who had only voted for the Saenuri party their entire lives, are now demanding, “Park Geun-hye step down; Keep THAAD in the U.S.; and U.S. Out!”

Zoom: On November 15, the South Korean Defense Ministry and Lotte, the corporation that owns the Seongju Skyhill Golf Course where THAAD will be deployed, came to a transactional agreement that will allow the South Korean government to take over ownership of the golf course. What is the projected timeline for the Defense Ministry to obtain the land and transform it into a suitable site for the THAAD system?  

Lotte will close its golf course sometime in December. It is probable that the Defense Ministry will become the owner of the golf course by early January, after which the land will be handed over to the US Forces in Korea (USFK). In late January or early February, they will begin mapping the blueprint for the base, then construction will begin. It looks as though the THAAD system could be fully deployed in Seongju between August and October 2017.

The people of Seongju, Gimcheon, and the Won Buddhist religious community are currently fighting to oppose the THAAD deployment. When the construction process begins, the residents will resist by putting their bodies on the line, and the national anti-THAAD task force will mobilize in solidarity as well.

Representatives of the Seongju, Gimcheon, Won Buddhist, Daegu, and the national task forces are discussing strategies on how to advance the anti-THAAD fight in the current political climate and the broader movement for Park Geun-hye’s ouster.

Even if Park Geun-hye resigns, U.S.’ THAAD deployment in Korea will move forward. It will be tough, but we are resolved to fight to invalidate GSOMIA and stop the THAAD deployment in Seongju.

 

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