Seoul and Tokyo sign intel-sharing pact to defend against Pyongyang

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Seoul and Tokyo sign intel-sharing pact to defend against Pyongyang

Korea and Japan signed an agreement facilitating the bilateral sharing of military intelligence, with the exception of top-level secrets, on Wednesday in Seoul despite strong protests by opposition parties and civic activists here.

The bilateral General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) was signed off between Minister of National Defense Han Min-koo and Japanese Ambassador to Korea Yasumasa Nagamine at the Defense Ministry complex in Yongsan District, central Seoul, less than one month after negotiations over the pact resumed.

The military intelligence-sharing pact was endorsed by the Korean cabinet and President Park Geun-hye Tuesday, following a preliminary signing of the agreement with Japan the previous week. The agreement took effect on the same day.

The 21-article agreement oversees the transfer, storing, protection and destruction of military secrets that are level 2 and below and confidential information.

“It is not like we will be offering unlimited information to the other side,” a Korean defense official explained to reporters. “We will be observing the principle of reciprocity and strictly review case by case and exchange the same level information.”

The bilateral pact took effect as soon as the two countries exchanged written notices.

The agreement will remain active for at least one year, and if neither side wishes to terminate within 90 days of its expiration, it will be extended for another year. The official signing came less than a month after negotiations resumed after four years. Seoul announced its plan to resume negotiations on Oct. 27.

The two countries were close to sealing a deal in 2012, but the deal fell apart at the last minute due to public outcry in Seoul against the secretive nature of the negotiations, anti-Japanese sentiment and concerns that it would alienate China.

Korea and Japan have been in a trilateral military intelligence-sharing pact, with Washington as an intermediary, since December 2014. The Defense Ministry claims directly shared military intelligence with Japan will help deter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. Seoul is expected to benefit from Japan’s high-tech Aegis-equipped destroyers, early warning aircrafts, information gathering satellites and maritime patrol aircrafts. Likewise, Japan can gain from Korea’s human intelligence.

“Through the signing of the agreement, the intelligence that Japan possesses can be directly shared without the United States as an intermediary,” Moon Sang-gyun, spokesman of the Defense Ministry, told reporters. “It will elevate the speed, accuracy and reliability of information on the threat of North Korea’s nuclear and missile program, and is expected to have the effect of deterring and restraining Pyongyang’s activities through improving our ability to monitor the North.”

But the GSOMIA has drawn backlash from the three opposition parties, who had demanded the negotiations be scrapped and plan to raise a joint motion next Wednesday for the dismissal of Defense Minister Han.

The opposition claims the rushed effort to seal the deal is a sign that it is being used as a means by which to distract from the ongoing influence-peddling scandal surrounding the president. About a dozen civic organizations protested the signing, as it took place, in front of the Defense Ministry in Yongsan.

At a press conference, they expressed concern that the deal would increase security tensions with North Korea, China and Russia and lead to “a new Cold War in Northeast Asia.”

College students also gathered in front of the Defense Ministry with picket signs demanding the GSOMIA is withdrawn, expressing anger at the Park Geun-hye administration for getting involved in state affairs amid calls for her to step down and ignoring public sentiment.

“There are political motivations amid the scandal involving Choi Soon-sil monopolizing state affairs,” said Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, a critic of the deal, in a radio interview with YTN Wednesday.

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

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