NEW YORK – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday criticized South Korea’s decision last month to end a bilateral military intelligence-sharing pact, saying the worsening of bilateral ties should not affect security cooperation.
“Our consistent stance is that (the status of) the bilateral relationship should not affect security issues. It’s deeply regrettable that South Korea unilaterally notified us of the termination,” Abe said at a news conference in New York.
Abe made the remarks hours after he touched on Japan-South Korea ties in his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump on the fringes of the U.N. General Assembly. Abe explained Japan’s stance to Trump “in detail,” a senior Japanese government official said without elaborating.
Tokyo-Seoul relations have worsened sharply since a series of South Korean court rulings last year ordered Japanese companies to pay compensation for wartime forced labor during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
Japan has maintained that the issue of compensation was finally and completely settled under a 1965 bilateral accord, urging South Korea to follow through on that agreement.
Seoul’s decision to terminate the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) in November came after the Asian neighbors also locked horns over trade when Tokyo tightened its export controls on some South Korea-bound materials and took Seoul off its list of preferred trading partners.
South Korea later dropped Japan from its own list of trusted trading countries in a tit-for-tat move.
Seoul cited Japan’s tightening of export controls in its decision to scrap GSOMIA, saying it changed the security situation and made it inappropriate to share sensitive information. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed disappointment shortly after South Korea announced the decision.
“We will continue to urge South Korea to keep promises made between states,” Abe said.
At the same news conference, Abe also expressed hope that discussions on amending the Constitution would take place during an extraordinary session of the Diet set to open on Oct. 4.
“Japanese people think that debate on constitutional revisions should be held,” Abe said, referring to the ruling bloc’s victory in the July Upper House election. During that election campaign, Abe renewed his push to revise the charter.
“I want both ruling and opposition parties to put forward their own drafts and hold discussions to meet the people’s expectations at the constitutional panels (of both chambers of the Diet),” said Abe, who is head of the Liberal Democratic Party.
Abe also sought to allay fears about the consumption tax hike to 10 percent from 8 percent set to kick in at the beginning of October.
“If risks become evident, we’ll take all possible measures (to underpin the economy) flexibly without hesitation,” he said.
He also ruled out the possibility of dissolving the Lower House for a snap election. Such an option is “neither in the corner nor at the center of my mind,” Abe said. “I want to fulfill my responsibility to the public by devoting myself to producing results on challenges both at home and abroad one by one.”