Seoul seeks military deal with Beijing
By Chung Min-uck
Seoul is seeking a military agreement with its largest trade partner China, according to officials, in an apparent bid to ease a possible backlash after halting a similar move towards an accord with Japan.
The move came just days after Seoul suspended signing of military pacts with Tokyo.
“We are pursuing a similar mutual logistical agreement with China too,” said Kim Min-seok, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, Monday.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Seoul has also been in low key talks for a proposed pact with Beijing for an exchange of military intelligence.
Seoul is discussing signing a similar agreement with Tokyo as well.
“Of late, we introduced to the Chinese officials our ongoing General Security of Military Information Act (GSOMIA) with Japan,” said a foreign ministry official on condition of anonymity. “We previously held talks several times with the Chinese counterparts on pursuing the deal.”
The official declined to give specifics on the behind-the-scene talks.
A senior foreign ministry official, during a recent visit to Beijing, briefed about Seoul’s ongoing military agreement talks with Japan and made an unofficial proposal of signing one with China.
Observers say South Korea’s move aims to pre-empt Beijing’s resistance to possible trilateral military cooperation involving Seoul, Washington and Tokyo.
China interprets the bilateral military agreement between Seoul and Japan as the first step toward a stronger “southern alliance” led by the United States.
Against the backdrop, experts are concerned about rising tensions on the Korean peninsula as the three-way cooperation could prompt Pyongyang, Beijing and Moscow to step up their own “northern alliance.”
The Ministry of Defense, however, denied of such speculations.
“It is wrong to say the military agreement with Japan will result in a cold-war-like confrontation between the two sides,” said Kim. “We will seek bilateral military agreements (with Japan) in a careful manner.”
Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin Thursday delayed his visit to Tokyo, which had been scheduled to take place at the end of the month, due to public backlash over the signing of the deals.
One of the pacts is GSOMIA, which allows the two nations to share information on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. The other is the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA), also known as the Mutual Logistic Support Agreement, which calls for exchanging most common types of support, such as food, fuel, transportation, ammunition and equipment, excluding weapons.
South Koreans are especially sensitive on the latter as it could give Japan the capacity to intervene on the peninsula.
The pacts, if signed, would be the first military agreement since Japan’s colonial rule over Korea which ended in 1945.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration has lately shown great interest in the Asian pacific region describing it as the future of the U.S. which includes military build-up and the strengthening of alliances throughout the area, an apparent move to undercut Chinese influence in the region.