The South Korean government held a National Security Council (NSC) Standing Committee meeting chaired by Director of the National Security Office Chung Eui-yong to discuss the issue on Thursday, two days ahead of the expiry of the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) between South Korea and Japan. “We will continue close negotiations with key countries involved in the matter,” said a source from the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae, leaving some possibility to turn around the situation. “We’ve also discussed plans in response to various situations that we may face.” However, unless South Korea, the U.S., and Japan come to a dramatic agreement with back-door diplomacy, the expiry of the GSOMIA seems hard to be avoided.
The reason why people are getting their hopes up about a dramatic turn around at the last minute is due to the concerns about what South Korea will be faced with once the GSOMIA expires. Despite South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s comment, which said “Even with the expiry of the GSOMIA, we will continue our security cooperation with Japan,” the aftermath of the expiry will be significant considering the symbolic meaning held by the GSOMIA in the security structure in Northeast Asia and the strategic decisions to be made by neighboring countries in response to the expiry. The diplomatic isolation that South Korea will experience will present times of unprecedented hardship.
The alliance between South Korea and the U.S., which is already on shaky ground, will become even frostier. The U.S. may react extremely in the current situation where the negotiations on military cost sharing fell apart and the possible reduction of the United States Forces Korea is being mentioned. Of course, the beginning of the issue at hand goes back to Japan, which responded to the history-related issues with export regulations and opened the possibility of the GSOMIA expiry by raising the security trust issue. However, the U.S. may hold South Korea responsible for breaking the trilateral cooperation system and connect this issue with other alliance matters going forward.
North Korea and China will be eager to encourage the break-down of the trilateral system and South Korea’s departure from the system. North Korea, which is increasingly raising the level of threats to other countries, rejected Thursday an invitation made by President Moon to the Korea-ASEAN Special Summit, ridiculing the South Korean government. Such behavior by North Korea is because it recognizes that South Korea is becoming completely isolated with no alliance. China will also put more pressure on South Korea as it did with regards to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) issue.
Diplomacy is a matter of a nation’s pride, but pride should not be the first priority when it comes to the survival and practical interests of a country. Diplomacy should not go against the voice of the people, but a type of diplomacy solely focused on domestic supporters will only harm a country. The GSOMIA issue is not about who wins and who loses. South Korea and Japan are in the same boat. Seoul and Tokyo should make a decision that will not leave any regret. There is one more day left until fate will be decided.