Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin is to visit Japan at the end of this month for talks with his Japanese counterpart Naoki Tanaka about accords to share military intelligence and facilitate cooperation in exchanging military goods and service. Military officials from the two countries "are finalizing preparations for the signing of the two agreements," a government source here said.
It will be the first military agreement between the two sides since the end of Japan's occupation of Korea in 1945.
The pacts will allow South Korea and Japan to share military intelligence, and cooperate in logistics during troop deployment such as UN Peacekeeping Operations. The two defense ministers discussed the pacts in Seoul in January last year but failed to make progress, but North Korea’s launch of what it claims was a space rocket earlier this year has apparently brought home how much the agreement is needed.
According to Seoul's Defense Ministry, Japan has six Aegis-class destroyers equipped with cutting-edge radar systems and a dozen aerial surveillance aircraft that give it an edge in gathering intelligence and conducting surveillance of North Korea. South Korea only bought its first surveillance aircraft last year.
In turn, Japan apparently expects some help from South Korea's ability to gather human intelligence from North Korea. At present, South Korea has intelligence-sharing agreements with around 20 countries, including the U.S., Russia and Vietnam, and military logistics deals with around 10 countries, including the U.S. and New Zealand.
"The military pacts with Japan are rudimentary and limited, and we will be pursuing similar agreements with China," said Yoon Duk-min at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security.
The government is pursuing the pacts because Tokyo could end up feeling left out once Seoul and Beijing start free trade talks on May 14. The South Korea-Japan military pacts could be the first step of the trilateral Seoul-Tokyo-Washington military cooperation framework that the U.S. has been calling for.
There are concerns that Beijing could be alarmed. "The main focus of the military pacts is to deal with threats posed by North Korea. They are not the first step toward a military alliance," said one Defense Ministry official. "We will also strengthen military cooperation with China through visits by the defense ministers."
Seoul is apparently hoping to treat diplomatic problems with Japan like compensation for World War II atrocities separately from the military pacts.