TOKYO - The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, agreed with Japanese officials Tuesday that three-way cooperation with South Korea is key to regional security and that an intelligence sharing pact between Tokyo and Seoul should not be scrapped.
Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said he told Milley that discord among the three countries would only destabilize the region and benefit North Korea, China and Russia.
"We shared a view that Japan-U.S.-South Korea cooperation is more important now than ever, as we discussed the latest situation related to North Korea, including the North's latest launch of ballistic missiles," Motegi said.
He and Milley also agreed on the importance of the Japan-South Korea intelligence sharing pact. Motegi added that Milley promised to convey that message to South Korea during his upcoming visit there.
South Korea has announced plans to scrap the General Security of Military Information Agreement, or GSOMIA, amid disputes with Japan over trade and wartime history.
The deal, which is set to expire later this month, symbolizes the Asian neighbors' security cooperation with Washington in the face of North Korea's nuclear and missile threat and China's growing influence. U.S. President Donald Trump's administration has been exerting last-minute pressure on Japan and South Korea to keep the deal.
Milley also met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Defense Minister Taro Kono, according to the Foreign Ministry and news reports.
Kono said recently that scrapping GSOMIA would send the "wrong signal to nearby countries, especially at a time when cooperation among Japan, the U.S. and South Korea is necessary." He said "the ball is in South Korea's court" and urged Seoul to "make a wise decision."
Japan also appears to be making a last-ditch effort to patch up its relations with South Korea to save the intelligence-sharing agreement.
Kono has expressed a willingness to meet with his South Korean counterpart, Jeong Kyeong-doo, on the sidelines of regional meeting in Thailand later this week.
Separately, Japanese media said Tuesday that Motegi may also meet with his South Korean counterpart, Kang Kyung-wha, at a G-20 foreign ministers' meeting next week in central Japan.
Relations between Japan and South Korea in recent months have been their lowest in decades.
Japan has denounced South Korean court rulings that ordered Japanese companies to compensate elderly South Koreans for forced labor during World War II, insisting that all compensation issues were settled by a 1965 treaty normalizing relations between the two countries.
South Korea accuses Tokyo of ignoring its people's suffering under Japan's 1910-1945 brutal colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, and criticized Japan of tightening trade controls on key technology exports to South Korea and the downgrading of its trade status as a retaliation to the wartime compensation rulings.
Motegi said Tuesday that South Korea's decision to scrap GSOMIA in retaliation for Japan's trade controls was a "complete misjudgment of the current regional security environment and is extremely regrettable." He said export controls and security issues should not be linked.