Friends or ‘frenemies’? South Korea fails to meet obligations of military intelligence sharing deal with Japan
Known as the General Security of Military Information Agreement, the pact was signed in late November 2016 under president at the time, Park Geun-hye
South Korea is failing to meet the terms of an agreement reached last year with Japan to share a wide array of military intelligence, according to a report in Japan’s Asahi newspaper.
An unnamed source in the Japanese armed forces claimed that the only information that Seoul has shared to date relates directly to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes. Data that South Korean has gathered on the activities of the Chinese military in the South China Sea, for example, has not been provided, the source said.
Known as the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), the pact was signed in late November 2016 under president at the time, Park Geun-hye. Seoul hoped to use Japan’s advanced information-gathering capabilities, while analysts were given access to high-resolution images captured by Japanese satellites and additional information on the North’s missile launches from submarines.
At present, Japan operates five surveillance satellites, six Aegis-equipped destroyers, four land-based radar installations with a range of more than 1,000km, early-warning aircraft and 77 maritime patrol aircraft.
The accord also provides Tokyo and Seoul with a direct bilateral channel for exchanging sensitive information on military affairs and included a provision that requires the two nations to keep military information on Pyongyang secret.
Previous similar agreements had fallen through because of opposition within South Korea to any form of military pact with Japan – due to a lingering resentment over Tokyo’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945.
The 2016 agreement was strongly criticised by opposition parties in South Korea on the grounds that it was concluded too hastily and failed to consider public sentiment.
According to a poll conducted on November 18 by Gallup Korea, 59 per cent of South Koreans said they were opposed to strengthening military cooperation with Japan because Tokyo had not expressed sufficient remorse about its colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula.
Since the Park administration’s fall from grace earlier this year, the opposition has assumed government. However, President Moon Jae-in’s officials have so far failed to provide information beyond its own analysis of North Korea’s latest missile launches.
The claims reported in the Asahi have come just days before South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha is expected to travel to Beijing to prepare for President Moon’s first trip to China next month.
Relations between Beijing and Seoul have slowly begun to recover in recent weeks after plummeting in the wake of the deployment of the US Army’s THAAD anti-missile interceptors in South Korea. Given the nation’s economic reliance on the Chinese market, Seoul has been particularly keen to repair bilateral ties, but analysts say the difference of opinion over sharing military information shows more the difficult relations between Seoul and Tokyo, rather than an effort by South Korea to curry favour with Beijing.
“These two have been fighting for a long time and, as ‘frenemies’, are never short of an issue to contest,” said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at the Japan campus of Temple University.
“It is also very significant that this agreement was reached under the previous, highly unpopular Park administration, so anything that resembles military cooperation with Japan is going to be highly sensitive and unpopular with the public in South Korea.”
The two governments have significant differences over numerous issues of shared importance, Kingston said, not least the “comfort women” topic – women who were forced into sexual servitude for the Japanese military before and during the second world war. Similarly, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe advocates unremitting pressure on North Korea while Moon is calling for a carrot-and-stick policy of negotiations backed up with pressure.
“Bilateral relations vary from frosty to lukewarm at the moment and I do not see that changing any time soon,” he added.