The government plans to sign a pact with Japan as early as this week on the sharing of military intelligence, marking the first military accord between the two countries since the Japanese occupation.
There were indications that the government tried to smuggle the pact past public notice, probably due to its incendiary potential. It was brought up and passed in the Cabinet on Wednesday without review at the lower ministerial level, and any reference to its military nature was omitted from the name of the pact, which is only labeled an "information" agreement.
The government also did not mention the military pact in a press briefing following the Cabinet meeting.
The government denied subterfuge. "There was no intention of surreptitiously signing the accord, and we intended to make an official announcement after the signing," a government official here said.
A senior government official said both sides are preparing to sign the accord, which involves sharing of intelligence information about North Korea. It will be signed "either this week or next week at the latest."
The official added the need for South Korea and Japan to share military intelligence "became clear each time North Korea tested a nuclear weapon or launched a long-range missile, but the lack of an accord made that impossible. We decided to rush things" after the North's failed rocket launch in April.
The pact would allow the two sides to share intelligence on the North's social climate as well as its nuclear weapons and missiles, giving South Korea access to data gathered by Japanese spy satellites and surveillance aircraft.
At present, South Korea has intelligence-sharing agreements with 12 countries, including Poland, Russia and the U.S., and has signed memorandums of understanding with 12 countries, including Germany, Israel and Pakistan over the sharing of classified military information.