Pentagon chief calls for renewal of Seoul-Tokyo intel-sharing pact

South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo (R, standing) poses for a photo with U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper Nov. 15, 2019. (Yonhap)

South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo (R, standing) poses for a photo with U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper Nov. 15, 2019. (Yonhap)

Seoul: U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper urged South Korea and Japan on Friday to work together to renew their expiring military information-sharing pact, saying its termination will only benefit North Korea and China.

Esper made the call during a joint press conference with South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo after holding their annual Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) in Seoul.

The pact, the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), is to expire on Nov. 23, following South Korea’s decision in August to end it in response to Japan’s export curbs on Seoul citing security concerns.

“GSOMIA is an important tool, particularly in times of war … We urge all sides to sit down and work out differences,” Esper said.

The United States has pressed Seoul to reconsider the decision, as it sees the three-year-old pact as a key trilateral security mechanism to counter threats posed by North Korea and to better deal with an assertive China.

Seoul has said any reconsideration would be possible only if Japan first changes its course, as Japan’s measure is seen as political retaliation for last year’s Korean Supreme Court rulings against Japanese firms over wartime forced labor.

Speaking of the allies’ negotiations for their defense cost-sharing deal, the Special Measures Agreement (SMA), Esper called on South Korea to increase its payment.

“South Korea is a wealthy country and could and should offset the cost of defense,” Esper said, adding that it is crucial for the allies to conclude the negotiations by the end of this year.

Esper, however, did not mention exact numbers.

Negotiations are under way between the allies to renew the SMA, which stipulates how to share the cost for upkeep of the 28,500-strong U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.

Washington has reportedly demanded Seoul pay nearly US$5 billion annually. Under the current deal, set to expire at year’s end, South Korea agreed to pay $870 million a year.

YONHAP

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