By Wang Wei and Liu Yang
Several US government and military high-ranking officials have visited Republic of Korea (ROK) since November 13th to save the ROK-Japan General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) that will be invalid soon. What’s important about this agreement that the US was so eager to save it? Will this agreement that was once believed to be targeted at the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) have any effect on China?
US senior military and government officials take turns to impose heavy pressure on ROK
Yonhap News Agency reported on November 13 that the US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark A. Milley, arrived at ROK that day and attended an evening dinner hosted by his ROK counterpart General Park Han-Ki.
Today, Milley attends the ROK-US Military Committee Meeting (MCM)along with US Navy Admiral Philip S. Davidson, commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command.
The US Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia Heino Klinck, and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs Mr. Randall G. Schriver will also come to ROK on November 14th for the ROK-US Security Consultative Meeting on November 15th, at which GSOMIA is likely to be top on the agenda.
Capturing the close attention of so many senior US officials, what sensitive information is included in the GSOMIA? ROK media reported earlier that the agreement consisted of 21 articles, covering the methods of providing confidential information, protection principles, way of destruction and countermeasures for loss of information.
According to the agreement, ROK and Japan can directly share military intelligence, including DPRK’s nuclear and missile projects, without going through the US. Japan would provide ROK with image and intelligence collected by its espionage satellites, Aegis destroyers, airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft and maritime patrol aircraft; while ROK would share with Japan intelligence it collected either through monitoring or human operations.
ROK’s Munhwa Ilbo reported that the reason why US is so eager to save the GSOMIA lies in its great significance for America’s national security and international control. The US, ROK and Japan are all collecting military intelligence about their neighboring countries, and if they can share the information anytime, they can make comprehensive comparison and come up with more accurate and timely solutions.
In particular, their anti-missile systems are actually interoperable. With the GSOMIA in place, these systems can operate in a coordinated way anytime and be more responsive and accurate toward enemy attacks and early warnings.
Will the GSOMIA be a serious threat to China?
Although ROK and Japanese media generally took the agreement as targeting DPRK’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, some analysts said the US military attached so much importance to the pact because it has something to do with China.
Qian Feng, director at the National Strategy Institute of Tsinghua University, said on Wednesday that the GSOMIA primarily serves as a carrier of sharing intelligence on DPRK’s missile launches, which is especially important for Japan.
Although Tokyo has advanced military technologies and can obtain information about Pyongyang’s nuclear tests and missile launches through its cutting-edge reconnaissance satellites and radars, ROK can access more first-hand information through its secret agents and spies based on geographical advantages, Qian said.
The GSOMIA enables Tokyo and Seoul to exchange military intelligence bypassing Washington and better carry out early warning and interception, Qian added.
Qian Feng expressed that Washington has always hoped to see intensified military cooperation between its two Asian Pacific allies, but they themselves have been at variance despite superficial harmony.
The GSOMIA can help the US to materialize its plan of building a “mini NATO” in Northeast Asia with Japan and ROK that will serve its Indo-Pacific strategy. In that case, China, as a close neighbor to the Korean Peninsula, will be exposed to more security threats, said Qian.
The GSOMIA is a critical link in US grand Indo-Pacific strategy
Korea’s leading independent daily, Hankyoreh, reported that Washington has been pressing Seoul to extend the GSOMIA regardless of its own stance, which we can only explain with the fact that the agreement is an indispensable link in America’s Indo-Pacific strategy, one advanced to contain China and focused on intensifying the ROK-US-Japan military cooperation.
“America’s primary goal is for ROK to fully engage in the Indo-Pacific strategy, and the way to achieve that is maintaining the GSOMIA and largely increasing the percentage of defense expenses borne by the ROK. Its request on GSOMIA and defense expense plays second fiddle to the central objective of having ROK in the Indo-Pacific strategy across the board,” said a researcher at ROK Institute for National Security Strategy.
The Hankyoreh also said in US’ new Indo-Pacific strategy, the US, Japan, India and Australia play a leading role in besieging China on all sides, while ROK, China’s Taiwan region, Singapore and Vietnam are included in the system as sub-partners.
In a broader sense, an important axis of this China-targeting strategy is the ROK-US-Japan missile defense program, whose possibility depends on the continuation of GSOMIA that enables the sharing of military intelligence.
Although nominally the agreement only concerns intelligence on DPRK’s nuclear missiles, the three countries can take advantage of it to share all kinds of military intelligence without limit, including early radar warnings.
Disclaimer: This article is originally published on Global Times, and is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.