South Korea yesterday decided 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.”
Officials are now scrambling to arrange bilateral talks between Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-wha on the sidelines of a meeting of G20 foreign ministers in Nagoya.
Seoul and Tokyo are both major US allies 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 Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile capacity.