Relations between Japan and South Korea have been rocky ever since the end of the Japanese colonial occupation of Korea in 1945. Image: iStock

Kim You-geun, deputy director of the Blue House National Security Office, announced on Thursday that the South Korean government had decided to end its intelligence deal with Japan. The Japanese government’s trade restrictions against Korea and removing it from a list of trusted trade partners were the primary reasons for the decision.

On August 2, the Japanese government decided to restrict exports to South Korea, saying that security problems were caused by loss of trust. Under these circumstances, Kim also said that the agreement would not be in Korea’s national interest, and there was no reason to re-sign this agreement because the Japanese government’s current actions are not in line with the purpose of exchanging security-sensitive military information.

According to Korean media reports, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters that Korea was continuing to violate the 1965 treaty between the two Northeast Asian countries. He also said Japan would continue to cooperate with the US in order to secure peace and stability in the region and to keep Japan safe.

The 1965 treaty was signed between a military dictatorship that had seized power in Korea in an undemocratic way and the Japanese government. Therefore, it is impossible for the current Korean government to continue to uphold the agreements it had at that time. To be sure, agreements between states ought to be honored, but they sometimes need to be amended as circumstances change for the benefits of both countries.

Japanese Foreign Affairs Minister Taro Kono summoned Nam Gwan-pyo, South Korea’s ambassador, to protest the Korean government’s decision. He met with reporters after the meeting with Nam and said the Korean government had made the decision based on a misunderstanding of the regional security environment.

However, the Korean government made this decision because Kono did not do his best to solve the conflicts between Korea and Japan with dialogue. The Korean government has been requesting dialogue with the Japanese government since early July when the conflict began, but the Japanese government did not respond. Kono met with his Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-wha on Wednesday in Beijing, but it was too late to halt the Korean government’s decision as long as Kono sticks to his government’s position on its exports restrictions.

The US government expressed strong concern and regret over Seoul’s decision and urged Korea and Japan to rebuild relations through dialogue. According to Korean and foreign media reports, a Defense Department spokesman, Dave Eastburn, tweeted, “The Pentagon reacted with dismay on Thursday over South Korea’s announcement that is axing an intelligence sharing agreement with Japan, urging the two sides to come to another arrangement quickly, citing safety concerns.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also expressed disappointment at the Korean government’s decision. During a press conference with his counterpart in Canada, he said South Korea and Japan were both important allies of the US and he hoped the two countries begin to put their relationship back in “exactly the right place.” But Mr Pompeo, what is the definition of “the right place”? That which the benefits only for the US without any consideration of the Korean people?

US President Donald Trump recently said South Korea should pay more for United States Forces Korea defense. Is Korea the only thing necessary for the US to pursue its interests in East Asia? Security experts say that if North Korea attacks the South with short-range missiles, Japan would gain time through the agreement from which Korea has decided to withdraw. Clearly, Korea has no security benefits from this agreement. The Korean people were recently disappointed that the US position took Japan’s in a series of conflicts between Seoul and Tokyo.

Some security experts have argued that the agreement should be continued, but the Korean government has determined that it does not benefit national interests. Its decision does not pose a major threat to national security. Japan has recognized South Korea as a country whose trust has been compromised in security, while it has said the Korean government must renew the deal. How can it be right to share military information with Japan in this situation?

Some political experts in Korea observed that the intelligence deal with Japan was signed in 2016 in response to US demands, and its threat to terminate it was intended to pressure the US toward involvement and mediation in the Korea-Japan conflict. However, the US government has stepped back from this issue. For Koreans, it is clear that the most trusted ally of the United States in East Asia is Japan based on what the US has done in recent days.

No matter what anyone says, the South Korean government’s decision was right.

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