South Korea is set to strike its first military accord with Japan, an official said Wednesday, despite domestic opposition over historical disputes and the possibility of the move aggravating North Korea and China.
The Cabinet on Tuesday endorsed the General Security of Military Information Agreement to facilitate the sharing of intelligence on North Korea and related to search and rescue missions.
It is also designed to set an institutional framework for the classification, protection and handling of intelligence, they said.
The signing ceremony will come as early as this week after Japan’s approval, the senior government official told journalists.
“As security demand has grown in recent years, the two countries have increasingly agreed to the need for greater cooperation,” the official said, citing Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile activity and China’s rapid emergence.
The U.S. has been calling for close defense cooperation between Korea and Japan.
“The GSOMIA has greater significance in cooperation with a key U.S. ally. In case of a contingency on the peninsula, we will inevitably be working with U.S. forces in Japan on an interlocking basis,” the official said.
“With alliances with the U.S. remaining the mainstay of security for Korea and Japan, the pact will raise efficiency in sharing information between the two sides.”
Since January 2011, the two countries have been pushing to forge the intelligence accord and the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement, which enables militaries to provide services and supplies to each other more efficiently while on overseas missions.
Though they are relatively low-level military agreements, the plans triggered stiff opposition from Korean politicians and activists, chiefly due to persistent territorial and historical disputes.
Korea has signed bilateral intelligence pacts with 24 countries including the U.S., Canada, Australia, Russia and Ukraine, according to the Foreign Ministry.
It also has the logistics agreement with 10 countries and is currently in negotiations with an additional 10, the Defense Ministry said.
Given lingering public skepticism, the two governments put off the logistics accord “until a social consensus is formed,” the official added.
Anti-Japan sentiment has been growing due to Tokyo’s repeated sovereignty claims over the Korean islets of Dokdo, alleged distortions of historical facts, and failure to apologize for conscription of laborers and sex slaves during its colonial rule between 1910-45.
Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin scrapped a plan to visit Tokyo late last month to sign the deals amid the controversy.
Japan’s military is believed to possess a raft of high-tech surveillance equipment. Among them are several early warning aircrafts and six Aegis destroyers featuring ultramodern radar systems, giving Tokyo an edge in monitoring developments in the nuclear-armed North Korea.
About 28,500 U.S. troops, largely consisting of ground soldiers, are stationed here. Roughly, another 50,000 navy, air force and marines are serving in Japan.
By Shin Hyon-hee (email@example.com