The South Korean government has approved an intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan, moving the pact a step closer to fruition as North Korea continues to make progress in its nuclear weapons and missile programs, a report said Tuesday.
The approval of the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) was announced at a Cabinet meeting presided by Yoo Il-ho, deputy prime minister for economic affairs, the Yonhap news agency reported. The South Korean defense chief and Japanese ambassador were to officially sign the deal Wednesday at 10 a.m. in Seoul. The agreement would enter into effect immediately since it does not require parliamentary ratification.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference in Tokyo on Tuesday that Japan was working to arrange the signing date, but did not offer further comment.
The U.S., Japan and South Korea signed a trilateral information-sharing agreement in 2014, but a Japan-South Korea deal would remove the United States as an intermediary and streamline the exchange of North Korea-related intelligence between Tokyo and Seoul.
The South Korean Defense Ministry has said Japan’s satellite photos of North Korea, as well as its information on submarine-launched ballistic missiles, would be a boon for bolstering Seoul’s defense capabilities.
Quickly sharing intelligence on North Korea has become critical, experts say, as Pyongyang has ramped up its nuclear saber-rattling, conducting two nuclear tests this year — including its most powerful to date — and launching a spate of missiles, with some landing near or in Japanese territorial waters.
Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency issued a commentary Tuesday blasting Washington for pushing its two Asian allies to sign the deal to bolster its anti-North Korean regional hegemony.
The agreement “will further the danger of a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula and poses a grave threat to peace and security in northeast Asia and the world,” the editorial said.
Frosty ties between Seoul and Tokyo began thawing late last year, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye announced a formal agreement to settle the dispute over so-called “comfort women” who were forced to provide sex at Japanese military brothels before and during World War II.
But despite the warming ties, the intelligence-sharing pact has faced a number of obstacles, including a wary South Korean public that remains cool toward any military agreement with Tokyo. Japan colonized the Korean Peninsula from 1910-45, and Seoul has accused it of attempting to whitewash this history and other past aggressions.
The country’s three opposition parties are set to submit a joint motion to fire Defense Minister Han Min-koo in response to the GSOMIA decision, Yonhap said.
The wide-ranging corruption scandal surrounding Park has also thrown a wrench into the conclusion of the GSOMIA pact.
South Korean prosecutors said Sunday that they believed Park was an accomplice in the scandal that has sent her administration’s approval ratings to record lows.
The prosecutors’ comments, which came as they indicted Park’s close friend Choi Soon-sil and former presidential aide An Chong-bum, are likely to spur stronger calls for her to step down or be impeached.
Sebastian Maslow, an assistant professor at the Tohoku University School of Law, said this will “depend on whether the current series of events maintain momentum and evolve into an impeachment of President Park.”
“As Choi has been found to have wielded influence over Park’s foreign policy, the South Korean public will likely question any future foreign policy decision made by the president, including GSOMIA,” Maslow said.
Maslow said that while the scandal was unlikely to affect the comfort women deal, it could affect the pair’s trilateral summit with China planned for next month.
“As Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo are currently coordinating … the summit, governments in China and Japan are certainly cautious about Park’s prospects of remaining in power,” Maslow added.
South Korea had sought to clinch an intelligence-sharing deal during the administration of Park’s predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, in 2012, though the agreement fell through at the last minute due to domestic opposition.
Information from AP added
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