South Korea announced Friday it is holding off on signing a controversial military pact with Japan following strong backlash from political circles and the public over the sensitivity of entering into a military agreement with its former colonial ruler.
The announcement came less than an hour before the two nations were scheduled to sign the deal in Tokyo, after South Korea’s ruling Saenuri Party urged the government to put off the signing and discuss the issue with the National Assembly.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Byung-jae told reporters the government agreed to the party’s request and is in talks with the Japanese government over the next steps.
“With regards to the South Korea-Japan General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), which was due to be signed at 4 p.m., (the government) decided to discuss the matter with the 19th National Assembly and then push ahead with the signing,” Cho said.
That decision came after the ruling and opposition parties agreed earlier in the day to hold an inaugural session of the new parliament next Monday, the spokesman said. The 19th National Assembly, elected in the April 11 general elections, began its four-year term on May 30, but failed to hold its first session as rival parties wrangled over control of key parliamentary committees and other issues.
The signing of the GSOMIA, designed to boost exchanges of military intelligence on North Korea, has been a controversial issue as many South Koreans still resent Japan for its brutal rule over the Korean Peninsula from 1910 through 1945.
Revelations that the South Korean Cabinet approved the deal Tuesday without prior warning offended the Korean public further and prompted calls for a scrapping of the accord.
Dozens of South Korean civic groups and politicians have accused the government of neglecting public sentiment and bowing to pressure from Tokyo and Washington, which they say is eager to see three-way military cooperation against the rise of China.
Others have denounced the pact as a de facto pardon for Japan’s wartime atrocities, including the issue of Korean women forced into sexual slavery for Tokyo’s World War II military. Seoul officials deny the allegations, citing a growing need to share military intelligence on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, especially after the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
They also say the agreement is expected to help the two countries share intelligence on China.