SEOUL – In a newspaper interview published in South Korea on Wednesday, Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono indicated Tokyo’s preference to continue a bilateral accord on sharing military intelligence with Seoul that is set to be renewed next month.
Kono’s written interview, which was published by the South Korean daily JoongAng Ilbo, comes amid mounting concern over the potential impact of worsening South Korea-Japan ties on the security cooperation accord between the two countries.
“The ties between the two countries are in a very difficult condition, but Japan will continue to cooperate with South Korea on the agenda on which it should cooperate, including the North Korea issue,” Kono was quoted as saying.
South Korea and Japan signed the General Security of Military Information Agreement, a military intelligence-sharing pact often shortened as GSOMIA, in November 2016.
The accord, which went into effect immediately, has since been renewed every year. But there are worries that it may not be renewed this time, as ties between the key U.S. defense allies in Asia have frayed to their most fragile condition in years.
The intelligence-sharing arrangement can be terminated if either party notifies the other of its intention to cancel the accord at least 90 days before the end of each one-year period.
Regarding South Korea’s position, the Dong-A Ilbo, another South Korean newspaper, reported Wednesday that the office of President Moon Jae-in has determined that South Korea should maintain the intelligence-sharing accord with Japan.
Last autumn, the South Korean Supreme Court ordered some Japanese firms to pay damages to Koreans who said they had been forced to work at their factories or mines in Japan during World War II. Japan views the issue of compensation as having been settled under a 1965 bilateral accord.
This month, Japan tightened export rules for several materials needed by South Korean companies to make semiconductors and display panels, prompting South Korea to accuse its neighbor of engaging in economic retaliation.
“It was South Korea that unilaterally broke a legal promise after over 50 years,” Kono said in the interview, referring to the 1965 agreement, under which Japan provided South Korea with $500 million in grants and loans.
The foreign minister added that the court rulings came as a “disappointment” not only to the Japanese government but also to many Japanese people who hope to maintain a good relationship with South Korea.
Kono also urged South Korea to agree to third-party arbitration as spelled out under the 1965 agreement to settle the dispute stemming from the court rulings. Japan has made the request, and Thursday is the deadline for South Korea’s response.
With regard to Japan’s recent export curbs against South Korea, Kono strongly denied the allegation that the tighter controls were retaliatory.
Kono said he is closely coordinating with his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-wha, but did not clearly respond to a question about whether he thought the leaders of the two countries should have a summit to calm the situation.
Japan and South Korea had originally planned to sign the intelligence-sharing agreement in 2012, but South Korea, then under President Lee Myung-bak, postponed the process at the last minute, due to a surge in domestic opposition stemming from Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.
Four years later, on Nov. 23, 2016, the agreement was signed under Moon’s predecessor Park Geun-hye, in response to growing concerns over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.