Photo/Illutration Secretary of State, Antony Blinken shakes hands with South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin at the State Department in Washington on June 13 after a news conference. (Pool via AP)

South Korea’s foreign minister is expressing hope for military intelligence sharing between Japan and his country to quickly return to normal, as North Korea continues launching ballistic missiles and nuclear testing.

South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin made the comments, concerning a key military intelligence-sharing pact, when speaking at a joint news conference on June 13 in Washington with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The pact, known as the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), was nearly scrapped in recent years as bilateral relations plunged.

“Along with improving South Korea-Japan ties, I want to normalize (GSOMIA intelligence sharing) as quickly as possible,” Park said.

The administration of South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol is concerned that inadequate intelligence sharing is hindering Seoul’s efforts to deal with the recent provocations by Pyongyang.

Park indicated that North Korea was very close to conducting its seventh nuclear test.

“In order for South Korea, Japan and the United States to deal with the threat from North Korea, there is a need for intelligence sharing and policy cooperation,” Park said.

Under Yoon’s predecessor, Moon Jae-in, diplomatic ties with Japan deteriorated after several South Korean Supreme Court rulings ordered Japanese companies to pay compensation to wartime laborers from the Korean Peninsula.

In 2019, South Korea indicated it would not renew the GSOMIA agreement with Japan, only to change its mind at the last minute largely because of pressure from Washington.

But intelligence sharing between Japan and South Korea has not been smooth even after Yoon took office in May.

At his June 14 news conference in Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno touted the pact as mutually beneficial.

He said the GSOMIA with South Korea “strengthens cooperation in the national security sector between Japan and South Korea and contributes to the peace and stability of the East Asia region.”

He said it is important that the pact gets implemented in a stable manner, given the more serious security environment in the region with the series of ballistic missile launches by North Korea.

At his June 14 news conference, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi expressed hope for greater communication to ensure smooth sharing of military intelligence.

Kishi did not meet with his South Korean counterpart on the sidelines of the recently concluded Asia Security Summit, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, in Singapore, in part due to the rocky bilateral relations.

Because both Yoon and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will be in Spain later this month to attend a NATO summit, South Korean officials had expressed hope the two leaders would meet there.

Park had wanted to prepare for such a meeting by conferring with Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi in Tokyo after returning from Washington, sources said.

But conservative elements within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have urged caution about dialogue with South Korea and the Kishida administration will not likely take aggressive action, especially with an Upper House election expected early next month.

(This article was written by Takuya Suzuki in Seoul and Keishi Nishimura in Tokyo.)