Photo/IllutrationPrime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to reporters on Aug. 23 about South Korea's decision a day earlier to end the General Security of Military Information Agreement with Japan. (The Asahi Shimbun)

South Korea’s shock decision to scrap a vital intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan represents a drastic and dangerous deviation from the cool-headed thinking required for the good of the nation and the region.

We urge South Korean President Moon Jae-in to reflect deeply again on the implications of the decision and revoke it.

Seoul officially notified Japan on Aug. 23 of its decision to discontinue the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), a bilateral accord that allows the two countries to directly share a wide range of sensitive military information.

Signed three years ago, the agreement contributed to bolstering the ability of the two countries to quickly detect and analyze potential security threats like North Korea’s missile launches.

In announcing the decision, South Korea said it decided it is not in its national interest to continue the pact. But the obvious fact is that ending this agreement undermines the country’s national interest.

Moon has been eagerly pursuing reconciliation with North Korea. His efforts for peace in the Korean Peninsula should be welcomed.

But his decisions should be based on reality, not wishful thinking.

The grim reality is that the security threat posed by North Korea’s arms programs has remained unchanged despite a series of summits between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Moon and between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump.

The most important bulwark against North Korea’s security threat is solid cooperation among the United States, South Korea and Japan. The three governments have been working hard for years to coordinate their policies to ensure continued cooperation. The GSOMIA is one of the valuable assets produced through these arduous efforts. Defense officials in both Japan and South Korea have acknowledged its benefits.

The Moon administration has shown signs of seeking to achieve more self-reliant national defense. It has pushed for a swift transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON) from the United States to allow it to take control of its own military forces should war break out in the Korean Peninsula, for instance.

If the Moon administration’s decision to terminate the intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan reflects, in any way, its wish to appease North Korea, which has been demanding that the agreement be scrapped, we can only say this action has created a serious rift between the Japan-U.S. security alliance and South Korea.

Washington has expressed its “disappointment” at Seoul’s move. But the Trump administration also shares the blame for the situation, as it has made numerous unilateral and unreasonable demands on both Japan and South Korea that link security issues to trade concerns.

There is no denying that one factor behind South Korea’s decision is a decline in U.S. prestige and influence caused by its own behavior.

Russia and China recently took an unprecedented provocative action, sending military aircraft to areas around Japan and South Korea for joint surveillance flights.

This is a disturbing sign of how the deteriorating relationship between Tokyo and Seoul and the weakening of trilateral security cooperation among Japan, the United States and South Korea are casting dark shadows on the security landscape in Northeast Asia.

South Korea should not keep pursuing hard-line diplomacy toward Japan with cavalier disregard for the region’s security situation.

The Abe administration cited security concerns as the rationale for tightening controls on exports to South Korea.

The Moon administration has used that logic to justify its own decision to scrap the pact.

This vicious cycle of escalating bilateral conflict, which is spreading from history issues to economic and security issues, needs to be broken.

In his address on South Korea’s National Liberation Day on Aug. 15, which celebrates the country’s liberation from Japan’s colonial rule, Moon refrained from harsh criticism against Japan.

But he must understand that the series of tit-for-tat measures was triggered by the sticky issue of compensation for wartime Korean laborers brought to work in Japan. No improvement in the poisoned relationship is possible without progress on this issue.

Japan’s decision to remove South Korea from the list of nations that receive minimum trade restrictions will come into force on Aug. 28, and South Korea’s decision to scrap the intelligence-sharing pact will take effect on Nov. 23.

With these two dates in mind, the two governments should engage in calm-headed talks on how to deal with the wartime labor compensation issue.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 24