Amid a growing North Korean nuclear threat and uncertainty over the foreign policy of United States President-elect Donald Trump, former adversaries Japan and South Korea have agreed to sign a pact to share military intelligence.
South Korea's Defence Ministry yesterday said the two sides "have tentatively signed a military intelligence-sharing pact after reaching a consensus on the terms of the deal".
Japanese government sources told Kyodo news agency that the two countries aim to formally ink the accord, known as the General Security of Military Information Agreement, by this month.
Both sides wrapped up working-level talks on the pact in Tokyo yesterday. The talks were revived on Nov 1, about four years after Seoul walked out of the deal in 2012 as a result of domestic opposition.
The two countries are reportedly already sharing data indirectly - through their common ally, the US - under a trilateral pact inked in 2014 to exchange intelligence on North Korea's nuclear and missile activities. The latest agreement will allow both countries to share intelligence directly with each other.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that Seoul already has similar intelligence-sharing pacts with 32 other countries.
But Japan is a different proposition altogether, given Japanese wartime atrocities in Korea. The pact is expected to run into opposition in South Korea, where memories of Tokyo's colonial rule and wartime actions still rankle.
South Korea's opposition, which holds a majority in the National Assembly, has threatened to impeach Defence Minister Han Min Koo if the deal were to go through.
The pact comes amid a greater threat from Pyongyang, which has stepped up the pace of its nuclear and missile tests. It has already conducted two nuclear tests and fired more than 20 ballistic missiles this year, including the first successful launch of an intermediate-range missile into Japan's waters.
The South Korean government has emphasised that it will benefit from Japan's superior intelligence assets, including Tokyo's six Aegis destroyers equipped with anti-missile systems, advanced radar technology and anti-submarine reconnaissance equipment.
South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Moon Sang Gyun, speaking to reporters yesterday, said: "The agreement is being sought based on the judgment that (South Korea) needs to share intelligence with Japan to more effectively respond to ever-growing North Korean nuclear and missile threats."
Yesterday, South Korea's main opposition Democratic Party said the accord was an "unpatriotic, humiliating deal that is opposed by our own people and not accepted by history". It added that the deal is "the first step towards allowing and recognising Japan's military rise".
The deal was sealed within two weeks after a four-year impasse, and that has fuelled speculation in Seoul - which is in the throes of political turmoil due to a scandal involving President Park Geun Hye - that the two countries are trying to ram home the deal.
Talks were reopened a week after the two countries and the US met at a Security Consultative Meeting last month. The agreement also came after the election win of Mr Trump, who pledged to get Tokyo and Seoul to shoulder a greater burden in their security alliance during his campaign.
International studies professor Park Ihn Hwi, from Ewha Womans University in Seoul, said "critical domestic problems" may have led to the hurried signing but it was "necessary" to ink the deal as both countries can benefit from it.