South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan on Monday apologized to the nation for pursuing a landmark military pact with Japan without making enough efforts to win people's support for the agreement with the former colonial ruler.
"I sincerely apologize to our people for failing to smoothly proceed with the planned signing of a military agreement with Japan," Kim told reporters, three days after abruptly delaying the signing of the pact amid mounting political and public uproar in South Korea.
"I humbly accept criticism that our Ministry didn't make efforts to seek people's understanding and support for the pact," he was quoted by the Yonhap news agency as saying.
In an unprecedented diplomatic embarrassment for both nations, South Korea on Friday put off signing of the intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, about an hour before the two nations were scheduled to formally sign it in Tokyo. Many Koreans still harbor deep resentment toward Japan because of its "brutal" colonial rule between 1910 and 1945.
A number of disputes over history and territorial issues stemming from the colonial rule have plagued relations between the two countries for decades, but Seoul and Tokyo have agreed on the need to expand cooperation in the defense sector in the face of increasing military threats from North Korea and the rise of China.
The now postponed General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) allows Seoul and Tokyo to exchange delicate military intelligence on North Korea's nuclear and missile programs as well as information about China, according to Seoul officials.
Main Opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) leader Lee Hae-chan has said that the Foreign Minister should be held responsible for mishandling the planned signing of the pact with Japan.
Asked whether he would resign over mishandling the pact, Kim said "as the Opposition party is said to be considering raising the issue of who should be held responsible, let's talk about the issue once they make a decision. I am now trying to seek the people's understanding and parliamentary support," he said.
Although prospects of the pact become uncertain as South Korea is heading for a Presidential election in December, Kim said he would make efforts to formally sign the pact. "The pact is needed for our national interest," he added.
Earlier in the day, he told a meeting of senior officials that his Ministry would press ahead with the pact with Japan after winning parliamentary support. Clarifying the remarks, Kim said "our ministry will push ahead with the pact with Japan only if the National Assembly understands and people support it."
by RTT Staff Writer
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