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Hole torn in net encircling N. Korea

By Takayuki Nakagawa / Yomiuri Shimbun CorrespondentBEIJING — North Korea is likely to have welcomed South Korea’s decision to scrap an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, a move that could weaken international efforts to encircle and pressure the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and also deepen the confrontation between South Korea’s conservative and progressive political forces.

South Korea announced Thursday it would terminate the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) under which Tokyo and Seoul have shared information on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

China, which had been wary of the solidifying unity between Japan, the United States and South Korea, appears to be closely watching how the situation unfolds.

Around the time the GSOMIA was concluded in November 2016, North Korea was stepping up its provocations, including ballistic missile launches. Immediately after the accord was signed, a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman furiously denounced the agreement, saying it was an unacceptable act of hostility toward North Korea, and that Pyongyang would strengthen its self-defensive military forces, especially its nuclear capability.

North Korea had been directing criticism at the conservative government of then South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who had adopted a tough approach toward Pyongyang. North Korea said Park’s administration had “sown the seeds of disaster” that would bring “greater adversity” to its people. When the administration of President Moon Jae-in, which gave priority to promoting reconciliation with North Korea, was launched in May 2017, Pyongyang apparently expected Moon would work toward axing the GSOMIA. Moon had previously slammed the agreement as “helping Japan to become military power.”

Consequently, Moon’s decision in the summer of 2017 to extend the GSOMIA for another year riled North Korea, which said it “could not expect any improvement” in relations between the two Koreas. Pyongyang reapplied pressure on Moon in July this year by saying the “war pact should be scrapped promptly.”

Some analysts have pointed out that bickering between South Korea’s conservative and progressive political forces was also a factor behind the decision to terminate the GSOMIA. North Korea’s continued effective fanning of this political confrontation and its portrayal of the agreement as a major problem can be said to have succeeded in ultimately weakening cooperation between Japan and South Korea toward Pyongyang.

China watching closely

During Wednesday’s meeting between the Japanese, Chinese and South Korean foreign ministers in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged his counterparts to have a dialogue. With regard to the GSOMIA, China appears to have been very interested in whether unity between Japan, the United States and South Korea on the security front will erode.

In its online edition Wednesday, the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China, said that if the GSOMIA were scrapped, it inevitably would have an impact on the U.S. alliances with Japan and South Korea. When the GSOMIA was concluded in November 2016, the Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed concern that the deal “aggravated the confrontation on the Korean Peninsula” and would “add to instability in Northeast Asia.”

A party official speculated the decision to drop the GSOMIA “would advance reconciliation” in relations between the two Koreas.

“Japan and South Korea are both U.S. allies. It is the U.S. moves that China will carefully watch. Scrapping the GSOMIA won’t have any direct ramifications for China’s security,” the official added.

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