South Korea postponed an agreement with Japan to share military intelligence hours before it was to be signed because of opposition over the deal with the country’s former colonial occupier.
“The South Korean side told us that, due to domestic circumstances, they would not be able to sign today,” Japanese foreign ministry spokeswoman Naoko Saiki said by telephone. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told reporters the postponement was “disappointing.”
The accord, which was approved by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s cabinet today and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak yesterday, would allow for exchanging information on North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs and on Chinese military activities. South Korean Ambassador Shin Gak Soo and Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba were scheduled to sign it in Tokyo.
While the agreement underscores shared concerns over North Korea and new leader Kim Jong Un, Japan and South Korea remain divided over rival claims to a group of islands and the compensation of women who served as sex slaves during Japan’s 35-year colonization of the Korean peninsula. Activist groups in Seoul condemned the pact as amounting to a South Korean pardon of Japan for its conduct before and during World War II.
“The government just didn’t take enough consideration into how sensitive relations with Japan are for the South Korean people,” said Kim Kyung Min, a professor of political science and diplomacy at Hanyang University in Seoul. “Whether there is a need for the pact at this very moment is debatable.”
President Lee’s New Frontier Party and the main opposition Democratic United Party filed separate requests to the prime minister’s office today demanding that the pact be postponed until the government explains its details to parliament, according to NFP spokesman Kim Young Woo and DUP spokeswoman Lee Un Ju.
North Korea conducted a failed long-range rocket test on April 13 that heightened regional tensions, and has threatened to turn Lee’s government “to ashes.” At the same time, Japan and South Korea have expressed concerns over China’s rising military influence.
The agreement won’t give Japan full access to sensitive information and isn’t being signed in response to specific countries or incidents, Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Byung Jae told reporters in Seoul on June 28.
“We’ve notified China that we’re willing to sign such an agreement with them as well, and are waiting for their official response,” he said.
Lee in March reiterated his call for Japan to compensate the remaining Korean women who were forced into prostitution. Japan apologized in 1993 and set up a compensation fund that some victims rejected because it was paid for through private, not government, contributions.
Japan and South Korea also dispute the territorial rights to a group of rocky islets, known as Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese, that lie in fishing grounds and may have natural gas deposits. The islands are located 87 kilometers (54 miles) east of the closest South Korean territory and 158 kilometers from the nearest Japanese land.
The two countries are each other’s third-biggest trading partners and bilateral trade rose 16 percent in 2011 to $106 billion, according to Japanese government statistics.
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