Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday that Japan wants to maintain a bilateral accord on military intelligence-sharing with South Korea despite deteriorating ties.
“It is important to cooperate with each other on issues that should be dealt with in a cooperative manner,” the top government spokesman said at a news conference, admitting that bilateral relations were “in a very difficult situation.”
Tokyo and Seoul signed the General Security of Military Information Agreement, a military intelligence-sharing pact, on Nov. 23, 2016. It is automatically renewed every year unless one of the countries notifies the other of its intention to terminate the pact 90 days before its renewal date, which would require notification by next month.
The agreement was signed under South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s predecessor, Park Geun-hye, in response to growing concerns about North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. Suga also stressed the significance of the deal, saying, “We have automatically renewed the pact every year based on recognition that it has strengthened bilateral security cooperation and contributed to peace and stability in the region.”
Relations between the two neighbors have deteriorated to their lowest levels in years amid disputes over wartime history and trade policy.
The South Korean Supreme Court has ordered some Japanese firms to pay damages to Koreans it found were victims of forced labor during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
Tokyo views the issue of compensation as having been settled under a 1965 bilateral accord.
Earlier this month, Japan tightened export controls on three chemical materials used to manufacture semiconductors and display panels for smartphones and TVs.
While Seoul has criticized the decision as retaliation, Tokyo insists the measures are intended to address security concerns.
In a move that could further chill ties, Japan is expected to decide later this week to remove South Korea from its list of countries given preferential treatment when purchasing products that could be diverted for military use, according to sources familiar with the matter.