Defense chiefs to hold meeting in Seoul Jan. 10-11
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan speaks during his New Year news conference at his official residence in Tokyo, Tuesday. / Xinhua-Yonhap
By Lee Tae-hoon
South Korea is considering signing its first military agreement with Japan by the end of this year at the earliest as part of efforts to boost bilateral military ties, a senior official at the Ministry of National Defense said Tuesday on condition of anonymity.
The official said that Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin and his Japanese counterpart Toshimi Kitazawa will discuss the matter in a meeting, scheduled to be held in Seoul on Jan. 10 and 11.
However, he cautioned that the two countries may decide not to push ahead with the plan, if it triggers a public backlash or faces strong resistance from politicians in the process of fine-tuning the details.
Seoul is reportedly seeking to sign the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) and the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA).
If the GSOMIA is signed, it will allow South Korea and Japan to systematically exchange intelligence on North Korea’s nuclear programs and weapons of mass destruction, another official said, also anonymously.
“The pact, if signed, will open a new chapter in the development of military relations between South Korea and Japan,” he said.
ACSA stipulates obligations on sharing military supplies and services such as food, fuel and transportation.
The defense ministry, however, refuted the claim, saying little progress has been made regarding the sensitive issue between the two countries and no deadline has been set for such an agreement.
Critics say the move could be premature, given the animosity that South Koreans still have against a nation that brutally suppressed them during colonial rule from 1910-45.
The ministry also denied a news report that Seoul is working with Tokyo on a joint declaration calling for strengthening military cooperation.
Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported the two countries were preparing the declaration with the aim of signing it when President Lee Myung-bak visits Japan in the first half of this year.
“We have not considered or discussed any new declaration with Japan,” a government official said. He also denied that President Lee plans to visit Japan before June this year, saying no decision had been made yet.
A series of historic and territorial disputes stemming from the colonial rule have plagued relations between the two countries for decades, though they are key trading partners.
During the two-day talks early next week, the two top defense officials are expected to discuss North Korea’s military provocations and bilateral cooperation on military supplies and services.