South Korea to Sign Military Pact With Japan

In a much significant step toward overcoming lingering historical animosities with its former colonial master, the South Korean government has unexpectedly announced that it will sign a treaty with Japan on Friday to increase the sharing of classified military data on what analysts cite as two major common concerns: North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats and China’s growing military might. The announcement set off a political firestorm in South Korea, where resentment of Japan’s early 20th-century colonization remains entrenched and any sign of Japan’s growing military role is met with deep suspicion. The opposition accused President Lee Myung-bak of ignoring popular anti-Japanese sentiments in pressing ahead with the treaty, the first military pact between the two nations since the end of colonization in 1945. North Korea accused Mr. Lee’s government of “selling the nation out”. (source: NYTimes – 29/06/2012)

The accord, the General Security of Military Information Agreement, provides a legal framework for South Korea and Japan to share and protect classified and other confidential data. Cho Byung-jae, the spokesman of the South Korean Foreign Ministry, said South Korean ambassador to Tokyo, Shin Kak-soo, and Japan’s foreign minister, Koichiro Gemba, plan to sign treaty on Friday, after Japanese cabinet’s approval. United States has been urging the two countries to strengthen military ties, so the three nations can deal more efficiently with threats from North Korea. It was well known that South Korea and Japan, which enjoy thriving economic ties and cultural exchanges, were negotiating the deal, but opposition and other government critics here were caught off guard by Thursday’s announcement because earlier indications had been that historical hostilities would again delay a pact. The two remain locked in disputes over the ownership of a set of islets and over Tokyo’s rejection of talks on compensating “comfort women”, the Japanese military forced Koreans into sexual slavery during World War II. Military cooperation between the two has lagged, although a cautious military rapprochement sped up after North Korea’s artillery bombardment of a South Korean island in 2010. China’s naval expansion has also prompted politicians in the two countries to call for closer military ties. In the past week, the United States, Japan and South Korea conducted a joint naval exercise in the seas south and west of the Korean Peninsula.

Officials here said the need for the allies to share data on bellicose and enigmatic North Korea has grown with the increased uncertainty after the death of its longtime ruler, Kim Jong-il, in December. Under the rule of his son Kim Jong-un, North Korea has vowed to bolster its production of nuclear weapons. It launched a rocket in April, and although it failed to put a satellite into orbit, Washington condemned the launching as a test of intercontinental ballistic missile technology. Political opposition and several civic groups in South Korea warned new military cooperation deal would only intensify regional tensions and encourage Japan’s “militaristic ambition”. “When Myung-bak government started out, it was pro-American to the bone, and as it nears end of its term, it is proving pro-Japanese to the bone,” said Park Yong-jin, spokesman of main opposition Democratic United Party. Mindful of such a political offensive, Hwang Woo-yea, head of governing New Frontier Party, visited disputed islets in the sea between South Korea and Japan on Thursday in a symbolic gesture reconfirming South Korea’s territorial claim. “Every grain of sand here, every rock, belongs to South Korea,” he told South Korean police officers guarding the islets.


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One Response to South Korea to Sign Military Pact With Japan

  1. Nearly 70 years after World War II, old animosities are still making it difficult for South Korea and Japan to establish a reliably productive relationship. The result is self-defeating for both countries and for regional security. Last week, at the last minute, South Korea postponed signing a limited military agreement with Japan. The deal would have encouraged the direct sharing and protecting of sensitive military data about North Korea and China and missile defenses. Such intelligence is now shared indirectly through Washington. The agreement was supported by the Obama administration, which has been working to strengthen a trilateral alliance with the two countries, America’s most important Asian allies. Although Japan’s cabinet approved the deal, a political firestorm erupted in South Korea, and now its fate is uncertain. That is a huge embarrassment, for Seoul and Tokyo, creating more bad feelings between the two. President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea clearly mishandled the politics. The deal was negotiated in secret, with officials informing the public and Parliament just one day before it was to be signed. This is an election year in South Korea; Mr. Lee’s five-year term ends early next year after a successor is chosen in December. He should have anticipated that his political opponents would lash out as they have, accusing the government of being pro-Japanese. Instead of presenting the agreement as completed, he should have made the case for it publicly and worked to build support for it in advance. Even then, it would have been a tough sell because animosity toward Japan remains very much alive in South Korea. Japan ruled that country as a colony, often brutally, for several decades until the end of World War II. Although the two nations have growing economic and cultural ties, they still have bitter disputes over a set of islets and Tokyo’s rejection of talks on compensating Korean women used by Japan as military sex slaves during the war. The United States and Japan have said little publicly to avoid inflaming the situation. But we hope they are working to calm the waters on this issue. South Korea and Japan need to find a way to recognize their history, but not to allow it to remain an obstacle to cooperation on critical regional challenges.


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