SEOUL – South Korea’s main opposition parties strongly objected Monday to any attempt by the government to sign a bilateral agreement with Japan on sharing military intelligence, threatening to “dismiss or impeach” the defense minister if the deal goes through.
South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun said at a press briefing that “priority has been put on the importance of national security” in seeking the agreement with Japan to better cope with North Korea’s nuclear saber-rattling.
South Korean media have reported that plans to sign the deal were set to go ahead as officials met Monday in Tokyo for a third round of talks.
Woo Sang-ho, floor leader of the main opposition Minjoo Party, said that “procedures will begin to dismiss or impeach the defense minister” if the agreement is signed.
“I make it clear that any Cabinet minister should never be tolerated if the minister tries to push for a policy that is being sought unilaterally and also runs contrary to the popular sentiment,” Woo added.
The opposition holds a majority in South Korea’s National Assembly.
At the ministry briefing, Moon was bombarded with queries from journalists who questioned the government’s move to sign the agreement. Some said any deal could be seen as overly hasty and sought without sufficient understanding from the public.
“The agreement is being sought based on the judgment that (South Korea) needs to share intelligence with Japan to more effectively respond to ever-growing North Korean nuclear and missile threats,” Moon said.
Japan and South Korea had been ready in 2012 to sign the agreement, but Seoul postponed the process at the last minute in the face of growing domestic opposition related to Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula before and during World War II.
The General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) is aimed at facilitating the exchange of military intelligence while preventing such information from falling into the hands of other countries.
A South Korean Defense Ministry official said last week that the Foreign Ministry has been asked to refer the draft of the pact to the Ministry of Government Legislation for prior review.
Deliberations at that ministry are required for an agreement to take effect before gaining parliamentary approval.
The development comes amid political turmoil in South Korea, with President Park Geun-hye under pressure to step down in the wake of a deepening influence-peddling scandal.
Her support rating has tumbled to as low as 5 percent due to allegations of a close friend’s involvement in political affairs.
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