Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin and his Japanese counterpart Toshimi Kitazawa on Monday agreed to pursue pacts to facilitate the sharing of military information and cooperation in exchanging military goods and services. The agreements would mark the first formal military pacts signed between the two countries.
One agreement on the exchange of military goods and services would ensure mutual support in terms of supplies, food and fuel during UN peacekeeping operations, humanitarian missions or search and rescue operations. A separate agreement would boost the exchange of intelligence about North Korea's nuclear weapons, missiles or other weapons of mass destruction, as well as international terror threats.
South Korea has intelligence-sharing agreements with 21 countries and military supply agreements with 8, but this is the first time it has discussed such agreements with Tokyo.
A Defense Ministry official said, "The issue of signing military pacts with Japan is still at an early stage and today's talks are expected to establish a common understanding on the pacts." He added the agreements are expected to bolster diplomatic relations between the two countries. Seoul and Tokyo agreed back in 2009 to overcome their historical differences and strive to build a "future-oriented, mature partnership."
But South Korean military officials believe the road ahead is anything but smooth. In Monday's talks, Kitazawa apparently sought to complete the agreements as soon as possible while Kim tried to control the pace. The government wants to gauge public sentiment, which is sensitive to any move toward closer military ties with Japan given its territorial claim to the Dokdo islets and the atrocities of its occupation of Korea.
Another variable is potential opposition from China and Russia. Closer military ties between South Korea and Japan could prompt China to forge even closer military cooperation with North Korea. The South Korean military in a statement made it clear that the agreements being pursued "involve ordinary exchanges and are completely unrelated to any move to keep China in check." This is why Seoul and Tokyo are opting to first sign the pact on military supplies, which is less sensitive than sharing military intelligence.
Other sensitive issues such as the possibility of joint exercises and allowing the Japanese military to operate inside South Korea in times of an emergency involving North Korea were also left for later discussion.
Kim and Kitazawa also agreed that North Korea's artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island and its uranium enrichment program pose serious threats to peace and stability in Northeast Asia and vowed to work together to come up with a response, the Defense Ministry said.