Seoul, Tokyo still sharing military intel, despite strained ties

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Seoul, Tokyo still sharing military intel, despite strained ties

Despite being the target of Tokyo’s economic retaliations over an array of thorny historical issues, South Korea has readily shared military intelligence with Japan each time North Korea test-fired projectiles over the past month.

According to Seoul’s Defense Ministry on Wednesday, South Korea and Japan shared military intelligence several times over the course of this month as per the terms of their General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia), including on Aug. 6, 10 and 16 when Pyongyang conducted tests of its newest weapons.

On Aug. 6, the North fired what are believed to be two short-range ballistic missiles called KN-23 by the United States and South Korea, while the tests on Aug. 10 and 16 both involved tactical ballistic missiles believed to resemble the U.S. MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System, or Atacms.

A military official in Seoul said in all three cases, Tokyo was the first to request information, to which Seoul responded by providing the intelligence it had in accordance with Gsomia.

These examples of the intelligence sharing pact being put to use comes amid continued controversy in South Korea over whether it should renew the agreement in light of Japan’s imposition of export restrictions to South Korea and its removal of Seoul from a list of preferred trade partners on Aug. 2.

Signed in November 2016, Gsomia is renewed automatically every year unless either of the two countries decides to scrap the pact.

The country wishing to walk out must give at least 90 days’ notice, meaning the last opportunity to do so before the latest agreement expires is this Saturday.

One of the accusations Japan put forward to justify its economic retaliations on South Korea was that Seoul had failed to properly supervise its imports of key industrial materials from Japan, which may have made their way into North Korea to be used for the latter’s chemical and nuclear weapons program.

With Japan failing to present any evidence to back up such a claim - UN data shows Tokyo is the guilty party in international sanctions violations on North Korea - the actions are believed to be reprisals for a South Korean court ruling over Japanese companies’ use of Korean forced laborers during wartime.

The neighboring countries put Gsomia to use after all the North Korean weapons tests this year save for one on May 4, including on the same day Seoul was removed from Tokyo’s so-called white list, when the two countries traded information on another North Korean weapons test, involving what the regime’s state media later called large caliber guided rocket launchers.

Some in the South Korean military say these exchanges testify to the importance of the pact in the security of both countries, since Seoul’s acceptance of the information swap shows it also wanted Japan’s intel.

On Wednesday, South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo told lawmakers that the government is still carefully mulling whether to renew the pact given that “there is an aspect of usefulness” to it.

The Blue House’s policy chief on Wednesday said the government would agonize over the decision until “the last moment.”

According to News1, a local news outlet in Seoul, a key Blue House official said South Korea would likely announce its decision over the future of Gsomia sometime today.

The verdict is expected to be dependent on Thursday’s meeting between leading officials at the Blue House, like Deputy National Security Adviser Kim Hyun-chong, and U.S. Special Rep. on North Korea Stephen Biegun, who may be carrying a message from Washington on the security pact.

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