Provisional pact with Japan already signed in April

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Provisional pact with Japan already signed in April

As controversy builds over the Korean government’s poor handling in forging a military intelligence-sharing deal with Japan last week, sources confirmed yesterday that the two countries had already signed a provisional agreement in April, but didn’t report it to the National Assembly.

According to officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Ministry of National Defense yesterday, on April 23, Shin Kyung-soo, deputy chief of international policy at Korea’s Defense Ministry, and Keiichi Ono, director of the Northeast Asia division at Japan’s Foreign Ministry, had tentatively signed the military deal, titled the General Security of Military Information Agreement, in Tokyo.

The pact, which Korea has signed with 24 other countries, including Russia, lays out a procedural framework for exchanging military information between Korea and Japan, including data on North Korea.

“We signed a provisional agreement of the pact with Japan on April 23 and made several modifications in between before finalizing the document in the middle of last month,” said an official from the Foreign Ministry.

On May 14, the Foreign Ministry sent the pact to the Office of Legislation for evaluation and sent it for approval by cabinet members.

Neither the foreign nor defense ministries reported the deal to the National Assembly.

The signing of the tentative military agreement is seen as nearly having confirmed the deal procedure-wise before seeking approval by cabinet members.

Last Tuesday, Korea’s cabinet passed the deal as an emergency item, which raised an outcry from the public and the National Assembly for not having explained the deal sufficiently to the people as it involves Japan, Korea’s former colonial ruler from 1910 to 1945.

Many Koreans today still express deep resentment toward Japan, and contentious issues remain between the two countries, including Japan’s territorial claims over the Dokdo islets.

Another government official, however, said that the government has no obligation to report the signing of an initial pact to the National Assembly.

“Initialing an agreement is made when working-level officials agree on a draft of the agreement,” the official said.

“There is no obligation for the government to report the process of the working-level consultations to the Assembly.”

Nevertheless, speculation is rising that the Korean government had tried to conceal the signing from the start as the partner country is Japan.

When the Foreign Ministry last week explained the deal to reporters, it did not mention the provisional agreement.

In previous cases, when Korea signed a tentative free trade agreement with the United States, the ministry informed the public about the signing, and whenever there were modifications made, it disclosed them to the media and the National Assembly.

“The Korea-U.S. FTA was an important issue and drew wide attention from the public,” said an official from the Foreign Ministry. “So we decided to disclose information from the start. But in general, deals aren’t officially announced or reported to the National Assembly when they’ve only been signed tentatively.”

By Lee Eun-joo [angie@joongang.co.kr]

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