Members of Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea, a Seoul-based civic group, criticize the Japanese government’s report on exercising “collective selfdefense” at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, Friday. In the foreground is a statue erected in front of the Japanese Embassy to commemorate former “comfort women” who suffered under the 1910-1945 Japanese colonial rule.
By Chung Min-uck
While Seoul forecasts the intelligence-protection pact with Tokyo could go into effect in the near future, experts are critical of the agreement.
The signing of the deal on sharing classified military intelligence in the proposed General Security of Military Information Act (GSOMIA) was called off at the last minute Friday due to public and political opposition. President Lee Myung-bak and ministry officials have indicated their intention to push ahead with the agreement arguing it is in the country’s best interests.
Admitting procedural flaws, Kim Tae-hyo, senior presidential secretary for national security strategy, resigned for orchestrating the process. Cho Sei-young, director-general of the foreign ministry’s Northeast Asian affairs bureau, was also replaced.
The government earlier came under fire for approving the intelligence pact during the June 26 Cabinet meeting in an impromptu manner to keep it confidential. It also skipped the legislative process, which some claim is necessary as the agreement has to do with national security.
“It will take a while for Seoul to sign the GSOMIA with Tokyo given the hostile situation,” said Paik Hak-soon, a research fellow at the Sejong Institute. “It is unlikely even under the next administration.”
The next presidential election will be on Dec. 19 with the new government taking office early next year.
Anti-Japanese sentiment has been surging here due to Tokyo’s move to increase its self-defense capabilities, coupled with historic animosity stemming from Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the peninsula.
A Japanese prime ministerial committee proposed Thursday to allow Japan’s self-defense forces to engage in military activities overseas if its allies are attacked, disregarding the pacifist constitution that prohibits the use of self-defense in settling international disputes.
Last month, Japan also inserted a clause into its atomic power-related law on “security guarantees” laying the legal groundwork for possible nuclear armament.
“With anti-Japanese sentiment reaching highest, it would be hard (for Seoul) to push for the deal,” Paik said.
“Anti-Japanese sentiment is something that surpasses bipartisanship in Korea,” said Yoon Hee-woong, a senior analyst at the Korea Society Opinion Institute. “Irrelevant of a rightist or leftist president, including even Park Geun-hye, it would be hard to sign a military deal with Japan.”
Park, a lawmaker of the conservative Saenuri Party, is potentially the leading presidential candidate.
The main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP), capitalizing on the issue, is exerting all efforts to scrap the deal.
The DUP insists the definition of “classified military intelligence” (CMI) that Seoul and Tokyo have agreed to share will be a serious threat to national security as it writes, “CMI means any defense-related intelligence that requires protection in the interests of the national security of the respective parties.”
Some critics also question the effectiveness of the pact as Seoul is believed to have more intelligence on North Korea than Japan, and already has a similar pact signed with the United States. They say Seoul can gain little while unnecessarily provoking China and North Korea.
“Having a fair relationship with China is also very important for Seoul,” said Paik. “China’s growing power as a whole is another stumbling block against the Korea-Japan military pact.”
China, Korea’s No. 1 trading partner, earlier expressed concern over the envisioned Korea-Japan military pact saying, “Countries should make careful moves so that they can help bring peace and stability to the region.”