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Seoul, Tokyo set to restart talks on intelligence-sharing pact

South Korea plans to reopen talks on an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, Seoul’s Defense Ministry said Thursday, seeking to boost security cooperation amid a thaw following their settlement over the sex slavery issue.

The envisioned General Security of Military Information Agreement will be the first ever bilateral military accord between the two countries, designed to facilitate the exchange of intelligence and data on North Korea, as well as search and rescue missions.

“Having conducted two nuclear tests and some 20 ballistic missile launches this year alone, North Korea escalates its nuclear and missile threats by the day, making our security situation even more critical,” ministry spokesperson Moon Sang-gyun told reporters.

“There is an increasing need to improve the intelligence cooperation mechanism with Japan in addition to the existing trilateral partnership involving the US, in order to more effectively respond to the threats.”

In June 2012, Seoul called off a signing ceremony at the last minute in the face of a political and public backlash over what was deemed clandestine negotiations.

The demand has nonetheless continued to call for greater security collaboration in line with Pyongyang’s intensifying nuclear and missile capabilities. As an alternative, South Korea and Japan struck a trilateral intelligence transfer “arrangement” in December 2014 involving the US as a mediator.

The resurgence of the talks apparently reflects the two countries’ bid to build on burgeoning momentum of reconciliation after they agreed to resolve the “comfort women“ dispute last December.

Yet public sentiment here remains sour toward any military partnership with the former occupier. Adding to the tension is Tokyo’s unabated claim over South Korean islets, fueled further by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s revisionist push.

Wary of the past debacle and lingering sensitivities, the ministry promised to carry out the upcoming consultations in a “transparent, open” manner.

Seoul has clinched a GSOMIA with 19 nations including the US, Russia, Australia and Ukraine, and a related arrangement with other 13 countries.

The accord will also lay an institutional framework for the classification, protection and management of intelligence, and define exchange methods, another senior ministry official noted. 

The sides have yet to decide on the date of their first round of negotiations but it would take place “as soon as possible” given the pressing need, with the goal of completing it by the end of the year, he said.

A Foreign Ministry official here said the talks would not take “much longer than one month” in light of the 2012 experience.

But the diplomat dismissed the possibility for striking an Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement, which enables militaries to provide services and supplies to each other more efficiently while on overseas operations, as “premature for now.”

In Tokyo, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed hopes for the deal. “Our government believes that it is very important for South Korea and Japan to work together to counter the North Korean nuclear and missile issues.”

South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Lim Sung-nam said a GSOMIA would help tackle the threats from across the border at a joint news conference following a tripartite meeting with his Japanese counterpart Shinsuke Sugiyama and US Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken later in the day in Tokyo.

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 North.

About 28,500 US 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 (heeshin@heraldcorp.com)
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