The South Korean government does not understand that the American military commitment in East Asia cannot work effectively without security cooperation between Japan and South Korea, even if the relationship between Seoul and Tokyo continues to be tense, writes Yuichi Hosoya, professor at Keio University in Japan.
There are three key elements that we need to focus on in order to understand the current deterioration of the relationship between Japan and South Korea. First, Seoul’s Moon Jae-in government is distancing itself from previous Conservative administrations. President Moon tends to believer that the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) and other agreements with Japan, including with regards to former comfort women, do not represent the sentiments of the Korean people.
It is reported that senior American officials are irritated by the fact that Moon’s government does not understand that American military commitment in East Asia cannot work effectively without the GSOMIA between Japan and South Korea. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed disappointment regarding the South Korean government’s recent decision to abandon the GSOMIA. While US Army forces are based in South Korea, a large proportion of American naval and air power together with US Marine Corps forces are stationed at US bases in Japan. The US Army forces in South Korea need support from its Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. President Moon and his advisors did not understand that the GSOMIA is an indispensable part of the American command structure in Northeast Asia.
To maintain security in the region, the American government needs to reaffirm that its military force is willing to stay in the region. President Donald Trump should not send a wrong signal that the US is leaving the region. Second, Japan and South Korea need to recognise that the two powers are major allies of the US, and they need to cooperate in order to restore peace and stability in the region, at a time when North Korea is still willing to instigate provocations.
Although the relationship between Seoul and Tokyo continues to be tense, each of the countries sends the other millions of tourists and visitors every year. At the cultural and social level, the relationship between the two countries basically remains friendly, and young people do not care much about the aforementioned political tensions. There are several reasons why we should remain optimistic and that the two countries may soon begin to repair the damage done by their respective governments in recent years. The countries’ diplomats and military officers largely maintain friendly exchanges, and they share a basic understanding regarding regional affairs in Northeast Asia.