SEOUL/TOKYO • South Korea will continue to share military intelligence with Japan via a three-way channel involving the US, Seoul said yesterday as it formally notified Tokyo that it will scrap their bilateral intelligence-sharing deal.
The termination of the hard-won military pact, concluded in 2016 after years of talks, comes amid a torrent of criticism and rising concern from Tokyo and Washington that the move will jeopardise East Asia security.
However, South Korea's Deputy National Security Adviser Kim Hyun-chong stood by the decision, insisting that it was "taken in accordance with national interest".
Addressing the media yesterday, he added that South Korea's efforts to reach a diplomatic solution were ignored by Japan "in a clear affront to our national pride and a breach of diplomatic etiquette", and that there was "no longer any justification" to maintain the pact.
However, he gave an assurance his government will work towards ensuring that its alliance with the United States will not be weakened as a result, and instead become "even more solid".
He said the sharing of military information with Japan can still continue with the US as an intermediary under the Trilateral Information Sharing Agreement signed by the three parties in 2014.
South Korea's pullout, first announced on Thursday, appeared to blindside Japan as their row over territory, history and trade spilt over into the defence realm.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe accused South Korea of damaging mutual trust and failing to keep past promises, including a 1965 wartime reparations treaty that forms the basis of bilateral ties today.
"We have consistently acted from the position that cooperation between Japan, the United States and South Korea will not be unduly affected when dealing with the North-east Asia security environment," he told reporters before leaving for France to attend the Group of Seven leaders' summit, where he will meet US President Donald Trump.
Japanese Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya warned that Seoul's decision was a "response that totally misjudges the national security environment of the region", adding that it would likely be more difficult for direct defence cooperation between the two countries.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was "disappointed" by South Korea's decision to terminate the agreement, known as the General Security of Military Information Agreement. The annual deal would have automatically been renewed in November, allowing both countries to share notes on North Korea's missile and nuclear tests.
The Pentagon, meanwhile, expressed "strong concern and disappointment", saying that the "integrity of our mutual defence and security ties must persist despite frictions in other areas of the South Korea-Japan relationship".
On Aug 16, South Korean President Moon Jae-in had struck a conciliatory tone in offering an olive branch for dialogue and cooperation in a speech to mark the end-of-war anniversary.
South Korea's Deputy National Security Adviser Kim said they informed Japan of the speech in advance, but "Japan did not show any response and even failed to show any appreciation for this gesture".
In addressing concerns raised by the US, Mr Kim said it was natural for the US to feel disappointed as it had hoped for the extension of the deal.
However, he stressed that his government had consulted the US adequately before making the decision.