The planned treaty has revived memories of Japan's occupation of Korea
The South Korean government says it wants to consult with lawmakers
The two countries were meant to sign the deal in Tokyo on Friday
The accord is intended to allow the sharing of classified military information
South Korea and Japan on Friday postponed the signing of a landmark military intelligence pact after the prospect stirred discontent among Koreans.
Japan occupied Korea for 35 years during the first half of the 20th century, and anti-Japanese sentiment still lingers.
The two countries had originally been scheduled to sign the accord in Tokyo on Friday. But the ceremony has been put on hold pending consultations on the matter with the South Korean National Assembly, an official at the South Korean Foreign Ministry said.
The planned pact is intended to “provide a legal framework on sharing classified military information,” including the threat from nuclear-armed North Korea, Cho Byung-jae, a spokesman for the South Korean Foreign Ministry, had said Thursday.
But as news of the proposed deal suddenly emerged this week, Koreans expressed misgivings.
“This is clearly a deception,” said Kim Hwan-young, the head of Korean Veterans for Peace. “I am angry at the fact that our government pushed the deal ignoring the national sentiment. We were colonized by Japan for more than three decades and we also suffered separation and civil war because of Japan.”
Japan has been accused of forcing thousands of Koreans to enroll into the military during the occupation between 1910 and 1945 and of coercing hundreds of thousands of women to serve as sex slaves. They were known as “comfort women” for soldiers in the Japanese Imperial Army.
Street protests and lawsuits in South Korea have sought redress for the sufferings of the comfort women.
The idea of a military deal between the two countries appeared to revive some of that anger.
“I don’t want this treaty to take place,” Choi Jong-kwan, who works for a legal firm in Seoul, said before the postponement of the pact was announced. “I am especially not happy at the fact that the signing will take place in Japan.”
Tokyo and Seoul have also been arguing about who has sovereignty over a group of small islands, known as Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan.
Japan has long claimed the islets in the sea east of Korea as its territory, but Seoul insists all Korean territory was returned after independence in 1945.
“There is still national sentiment on the history and the Dokdo Island dispute,” said Moon Chung-in, a political science professor at Yonsei University.
“They should have gotten some concession from Japan on the issues and also made the process public,” said Moon, a former national security adviser to the administration of former president, Roh Moo-hyun.
Other observers have argued in favor of the deal, noting the present threat to both countries from the secretive North Korean regime.
“The treaty was inevitable given the current trend in northeast Asia including that of China’s growing influence and its ties with North Korea,” said Kim Tae-woo, the head of Korean Institute for National Unification.
“South Korea is good with human intelligence, while Japan has an upper hand in technology intelligence,” said Kim, who is also a former vice president of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses. “The two nations are likely to cooperate when it comes to the North Korean threat.”
South Korea has already signed similar treaties with 23 other countries, including the United States and Russia, according to the South Korean Foreign Ministry.
And Seoul and Tokyo have deep and long-established economic ties. As of 2011, Japan and South Korea were each others’ third largest trading partners, according to Korea International Trade Association.
Some South Koreans said they thought it was time for Seoul and Tokyo to move on from the past.
“For the sake of the interest of the country, we need to put historical factors behind us,” said Park Sung-kwon, who works for a construction company in Seoul. “I support the deal.”