Korea enters in intelligence pact

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Korea enters in intelligence pact

A trilateral defense agreement will be signed among Seoul, Tokyo and Washington next week, creating a bypass for Korea and Japan to exchange confidential military intelligence.

“Korea, Japan and the United States agreed on the need to share intelligence regarding intensifying threats from North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs,” an official from Korea’s Ministry of National Defense said Friday.

“The defense ministries of the three nations will sign a military intelligence agreement on Monday.”

The accord will be the first agreement on military cooperation between Seoul and Tokyo since Japan’s colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

The official added that the three governments have acknowledged that the North’s threats have become increasingly visible, noting the regime’s third nuclear test in February 2013 and its continuous efforts to bolster its missile and firing capabilities.

“The military intelligence to be shared under the accord will only be limited to the North’s nuclear and missile programs,” he said. “And the information will be shared under mutual agreements.”

The trilateral pact creates a new channel for Seoul and Tokyo to share military intelligence. Bilateral information-sharing accords have already been inked between Washington and Seoul, and Washington and Tokyo.

Seoul and Washington signed an intelligence pact in 1987, while Japan and the United States signed a deal in 2007.

Korea and Japan previously attempted to form a bilateral accord in 2012, though the plan for the landmark military pact was scrapped at the last minute as protests grew in Korea.

Animosity toward Japan still lingers here, stemming from a 35-year colonization and Tokyo’s subsequent failure to address its wartime past.

Japan’s conservative administration still refuses to apologize for its military’s sexual enslavement of Korean women during World War II and has not yet compensated those victims, euphemistically known as “comfort women.”

The current agreement was signed by Seoul and Tokyo with Washington as an intermediary.

Under the trilateral accord, Korea and Japan will send their requests for intelligence to the Pentagon, and that information - if it is approved to be shared by the respective government - will be delivered through the United States.

“In this structure, Seoul and Tokyo do not exchange information directly,” the ministry official said.

Vice Defense Minister Baek Seung-joo, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, and Japan’s Administrative Vice Minister of Defense Masanori Nishi will sign the agreement.

The three nations decided against a formal signing ceremony. Instead, the accord will be signed separately and then circulated.

The official added that there are still critical views about directly sharing intelligence with Japan.

So far, the government has signed military-intelligence treaties with 15 countries, including the United States and Russia, and similar agreements with 14 others, including Germany and Vietnam. Although it is a trilateral accord, Japan will become Korea’s 30th partner to exchange military information.

“The accord will also work as a deterrence against provocations by North Korea,” the source said. “If the North attempts to stage a provocation, Korea, the United States and Japan will also be able to respond more quickly.”

The trilateral agreement is expected to added pressure on Pyongyang’s efforts to develop nuclear and missile technology. Diplomatic attempts to put a stop to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions have stalled over the past decade, and in that time Pyongyang has managed to accelerate its atomic weapons technologies.

Officials in Seoul and Washington contend that North Korea is in the final stages of being able to mount nuclear bombs onto missiles.

Still, there is concern that the U.S.-led trilateral accord will prompt backlash from Korea and Japan’s regional neighbors, including China, particularly because the U.S.-led missile defense system will likely extend its scope to the Korean Peninsula.

Japan has already joined the U.S.-led missile defense (MD) system while bolstering its capabilities to deter the North’s threats.

However, Seoul has denied speculation that the trilateral intelligence pact is a prelude for joining the U.S.-led missile defense system. “Sharing intelligence doesn’t mean we are joining the MD,” the official said.

China and Russia have reacted sensitively to prospects that the U.S. missile defense system may be extended to involve Korea, and Seoul has repeatedly stressed that it has opted to push the development of its own missile shield, the Korean Air and Missile Defense System, rather than allowing the deployment of the U.S. army’s Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) advanced antimissile defense system.

BY SER MYO-JA [myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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