Korea-Japan military pacts
Careful approach needed before signing
Military authorities Tuesday confirmed that Korea and Japan have been in talks on accords to share military intelligence and exchange military goods and services.
Given the sensitivity of the military agreement between the neighboring countries, the government will have to take a careful approach although we feel the need to step up bilateral intelligence cooperation owing to rising threats from North Korea.
Military officials from Korea and Japan are known to be negotiating to complete the deal by the end of this month after failing to agree twice ― first late last year and second earlier this month. Specifically, Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin may visit Japan at the end of May to sign the pacts with his Japanese counterpart Naoki Tanaka.
The pacts, if signed, will be the first military agreement between the two sides since Japan’s occupation of the Korean Peninsula ended in 1945. The two defense chiefs discussed the pacts in Seoul in January last year but failed to reach agreement.
Korea and Japan have a good reason, respectively, to conclude the pacts. Japan boasts strong intelligence capabilities with its six Aegis-class destroyers equipped with advanced radar systems and surveillance aircraft that give it an edge in gathering intelligence and keeping a close watch on North Korea. In contrast, South Korea has the ability to gather human intelligence, commonly known as ``humint,’’ about the North.
Experts say the country needs to enhance its intelligence-gathering capabilities at a time when political instability has increased since Kim Jong-un took power earlier this year. The bilateral military pacts could be the first step toward the trilateral military cooperation framework involving South Korea, the U.S. and Japan.
South Korea and Japan will also benefit from cooperation in logistics ― for example when they send troops abroad for U.N. peacekeeping operations. Currently, South Korea has intelligence-sharing agreements with about 20 countries, including the U.S., Russia and Vietnam, and logistics cooperation deals with 10 countries, including the U.S. and New Zealand.
In pushing for military accords with Japan, the military should be fully aware of delicate national sentiment toward Japan. Given that military cooperation with Japan is a sensitive issue, the military must not be in a hurry and pay utmost heed to public opinion.
What is clear at the moment is that the military pacts with Japan must be limited and should not develop into a military alliance in consideration of Japan’s brutal occupation of the Korean Peninsula. Opponents of increased military cooperation with Japan often raise fears that Japanese troops might land here in an emergency.
At the same time, the agreement should not alarm China, which is highly sensitive to Japan’s military moves. To ease China’s concern, South Korea will have to strengthen military cooperation with the world’s most populous country.
Last but not least, the issue of military pacts must be separated from pending diplomatic issues with Japan such as Dokdo and the comfort women.