Seoul, Tokyo are close to an intel-sharing deal

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Seoul, Tokyo are close to an intel-sharing deal

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Civic activists stage a rally in front of the Ministry of National Defense in Yongsan District, Seoul, on Wednesday, demanding that Seoul stop talks with Tokyo on a bilateral military intelligence-sharing pact. [NEWSIS]

Seoul and Tokyo are closing in on a sensitive bilateral military intelligence-sharing pact and held their second working-level meeting in Seoul on Wednesday.

Seoul announced that it plans to resume negotiations for a bilateral General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Japan on Oct. 27, a move that has prompted a political backlash in Seoul.

Defense and foreign affairs officials took part in the talks, which were held in the Ministry of National Defense in central Seoul, eight days after the first working-level talks held in Tokyo on Nov. 1.

Moon Sang-kyun, spokesman for the Defense Ministry, said in a briefing, “Most of the draft was already negotiated in 2012, thus we expect it to be completed soon.”

The two countries were close to sealing a deal in 2012, which fell apart at the last minute because of a backlash in Seoul. There was a domestic outcry over the secretive nature of the negotiations and ongoing bilateral mistrust over unresolved historical and territorial disputes with Japan.

Despite Korea’s continued qualms about directly sharing information with Japan, Seoul and Tokyo have been in a trilateral information-sharing arrangement with Washington as an intermediary since December 2014.

The Defense Ministry has emphasized that information-sharing with Tokyo will be helpful to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat. The two countries would be able to directly share their military intelligence on Pyongyang, it says.

It is speculated that the deal can be signed as early as this month if all goes smoothly.

The three opposition parties demanded Wednesday for the immediate halt in negotiations.

“Four years ago, the Korea-Japan GSOMIA was scrapped because of strong protests by the people, and we have no military intelligence that we need to receive from Japan,” Woo Sang-ho, floor leader of the main opposition Minjoo Party, said during his party’s Supreme Council meeting. “South Korea will have to give our military intel to Japan, so I am not sure why this will be helpful in countering North Korea’s nuclear weapons.”

Civic activists gathered in front of the foreign and defence ministries in central Seoul on the same day to protest the bilateral pact with Japan.

Also on Wednesday, Seoul, Tokyo and Washington kicked off a two-day naval exercise aimed at boosting their capability to detect and track North Korea’s ballistic missiles.

The exercise, the second such trilateral maritime drill in four months, simulated tracking of North Korean missiles, deploying Aegis-equipped destroyers with radars and the sharing of information, according to the Korean Navy.

The three countries held a similar joint drill to counter a possible North Korea attack in June in Hawaii during the Rim of the Pacific Exercise maritime warfare exercise.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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