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S Korea and Japan explore deeper military ties

S Korea and Japan push for deeper ties as the two countries' defence ministers meet to discuss military coordination in response to N Korea's recent provocations

AFP, Monday 10 Jan 2011
Korea protest
South Korean protesters shout slogans during a rally denouncing Japan's Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa's visiting in front of the Defense Ministry in Seoul 10 January 2011. (AP)
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South Korea and Japan agreed Monday to push for talks aimed at forging their first military accord since Tokyo's brutal colonial rule over the Korean peninsula ended in 1945, officials said.

The agreement was reached between Defence Minister Kim Kwan-Jin and his Japanese counterpart Toshimi Kitazawa in response to recent provocations by North Korea, Kim's ministry said.

They agreed on "close coordination" after reaching a consensus that a series of provocations had seriously undermined regional peace, it said in a statement.

"In particular, the two ministers shared views that North Korea's recent provocations, including the artillery attack on Yeonpyeong island and the revelation of its uranium enrichment facility, can never be accepted," it said.

The meeting came amid high regional tensions over the North's deadly shelling of a South Korean island on 23 November.

Earlier that month, the North disclosed the existence of a uranium enrichment plant which could be converted to military use.

The United States has staged military drills with both South Korea and Japan, in a show of strength around the peninsula.

The defence chiefs built a common understanding on enhancing military exchanges and cooperation, the statement said.

They agreed to launch discussions on signing two agreements to share military secrets and exchange military goods and services for peacekeeping, relief operations and exercises, it said.

Defence ministry officials said this could include information on the North's nuclear programme.

The two countries have signed separate agreements with the United States to share classified military information, but have no such deal between themselves.

In 2009 Seoul and Tokyo signed a memorandum of understanding on comprehensive military cooperation.

But South Korea has long been reluctant to work too closely with Japan's military amid lingering bitter memories of the 1910-45 annexation.

Apart from history, ties have been strained by Tokyo's reasserted claims over a chain of Seoul-controlled islands in the Sea of Japan (East Sea).

On Tuesday, Kitazawa will visit the border truce village of Panmunjom and a naval base in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometres (45 miles) south of Seoul, to see the wreck of a warship allegedly sunk by a North Korean torpedo attack in March.

Japan's centre-left Prime Minister Naoto Kan and South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak may sign a joint statement centred on security cooperation as early as this spring, the Yomiuri Shimbun daily reported earlier.

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