South Korea stalls on historic intelligence treaty with Japan
Japan and South Korea were forced into an embarrasing climbdown yesterday – postponing the ratification of a historic co-operation treaty minutes before it was set to be signed.
The military pact, the first between South Korea and Japan since the Second World War, had been seen as a breakthrough between the neighbours despite their difficult history.
Shortly before the signing of the pact was meant to take place, Japan’s foreign minister had called the agreement a “historic event”.
However, Seoul put postponed signing-off on the treaty less than an hour before it was to be formally ratified, forced by a political outcry at home.
The agreement had caused an uproar in South Korea, which was ruled by Japan as a colony for decades until the end of the Second World War in 1945.
Critics say the government in Seoul, fearing a backlash from opponents who do not trust Japan, had pushed the pact through without allowing enough public debate.
Seoul has often been wary of Japan’s post-war military development, but the nations have many shared concerns, particularly North Korea and China.
The pact would have established a framework for sharing intelligence in such areas as missile defence, North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, Chinese military operations and other regional security matters.
The move to forge the pact reflects deepening mutual concerns that more co-operation is needed to enhance security readiness.
The two countries are increasingly concerned by potential threats from North Korea, which is developing its long-range missile and nuclear weapons capabilities. They are also closely watching the rise of China’s military.
North Korea heightened regional tensions in April with the launch of a rocket that was widely criticised as a test of long-range missile technology.
The launch was of particular concern to Seoul and Tokyo because they are within reach of the north’s missile arsenal.
Such fears spurred the government efforts to co-operate more closely on intelligence sharing, though the pact remains controversial among some in South Korea.
Japan’s cabinet approved the pact yesterday after South Korea had done so earlier in the week. But Seoul backtracked, saying it would hold off on the formal signing ceremony because of concerns among South Koreans.
“This is an agreement that we think is very important,” said Noriyuki Shikata, Japan’s deputy cabinet secretary for public relations. “Our view is that we still want to sign it.”
However, there was some support in South Korea, notably in newspaper editorials, for the closer intelligence relationship.
“An accord for military-information protection with Japan is necessary given the ever-growing threat from the north,” South Korea’s JoongAng Daily news- paper said.
“The more quality information we have about the north, the better our security.”
Along with bitter memories from Japan’s often brutal colonial rule of Korea, the two countries remain at odds over a territorial dispute that has marred their relations.
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