Seoul, Nov 22 (AFP/APP): South Korea decided Friday against scrapping a critical military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, in a dramatic 11th-hour U-turn that will come as a relief to the United States.
The pact was due to expire at midnight amid a sharp deterioration in ties between the two democracies and market economies that has alarmed Washington as it seeks to curb the threat from nuclear-armed North Korea.
But after a flurry of last-ditch diplomacy, Seoul announced it would “conditionally” suspend the expiry of the agreement with just six hours left on the clock.
Kim You-geun, a national security official at Seoul’s presidential Blue House, confirmed the accord, known as GSOMIA, would not be allowed to lapse at midnight.
“The Japanese government has expressed their understanding,” he said.
However, he warned that the pact could still “be terminated at any time.”
Japan’s Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi stressed the pact was “important,” adding: “Given the current state of security conditions in this region, I believe South Korea made this decision from a strategic standpoint.”
He said officials were working to hold bilateral talks with his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-wha on the sidelines of a meeting of G20 foreign ministers in Nagoya.
Seoul had announced the scrapping of the pact in August, as a trade row sparked by historical disputes between the pair spiralled into one of their worst diplomatic spats in years.
Seoul and Tokyo are both major US allies, democracies and market economies faced with an overbearing China and wayward, nuclear-armed North Korea.
But their relationship is heavily coloured by territorial and historical disputes stemming from Japan’s bitterly-resented 35-year colonial rule over the peninsula, including the use of wartime sex slaves and forced labour.
The GSOMIA pact, signed in 2016, enabled the two US allies to share military secrets, particularly over North Korea’s nuclear and missile capacity.