Military links with Japan on table

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Military links with Japan on table

Korea and Japan are expected to open a new era of military cooperation with discussions next week when Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa visits Korea for the first time in five years, according to the Ministry of National Defense yesterday.

Kitazawa and Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin will push to sign an agreement, called the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement, to allow the sharing of logistic support, supplies and services between Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and the Korean military.

Kitazawa is also likely to call for bilateral talks with Korea to discuss another agreement that would allow the two countries to share military intelligence. According to a Defense Ministry official, the United States has signed similar agreements with both Korea and Japan. Both Korea and Japan “feel that such an agreement is needed” between them, the official said.

The Japanese defense minister’s visit is seen as reciprocating then-Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee’s visit to Japan in April 2009. Kitazawa arrives Monday.

“If this agreement is reached, both countries would possess the institutional foundation to share information on North Korea’s nuclear program or its weapons of mass destruction,” the source said.

Korea has agreements or memorandums of understanding to share military intelligence with 21 other countries, including the United States, Canada, Israel, New Zealand, Australia, Turkey and Thailand.

Japan was excluded for fear of negative public sentiment stemming from Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

Kitazawa said during a New Year’s address that Japan would work closely with neighboring countries including South Korea to strengthen military ties, calling cooperation “essential.”

However, the Korean government is cautious on moving forward too quickly.

The Defense Ministry source said that though talks will be held during Kitazawa’s visit, they will not necessarily guarantee that agreements will be reached within the year.

“This is just the beginning of discussions,” said the official, who added that it was too early to discuss joint military drills between Korea and Japan “because there is a need to take public sentiment into consideration.”

Meanwhile, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade official said that Korea could take part in joint security cooperation with other countries, including Japan, but said it is “difficult to discuss military cooperation with Japan right now.”

“We do not use the word ‘alliance’ between Korea and Japan,” said another Korean government official who asked not to be named, “because it is difficult to see that relations between the two countries have been settled regarding our past history and public opinion. Japan also knows this very well.

“However, Japan is a country that shares values with Korea and it is hoping, long-term, to increase cooperation in military exchanges,” he said. “There have been steady developments in that sense between the two countries.”

The Korean government denied Japanese media reports that President Lee Myung-bak would visit Japan in the first half of the year. Nothing about a trip has been confirmed, it said.

By Christine Kim []
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