Chinese relations with South Korea and Japan continue to be strained by the North Korean issue, and now Beijing is crying foul over an intelligence-sharing pact between the two countries. Reuters:
China’s Defence Ministry on Wednesday expressed serious concern about South Korea and Japan signing a military intelligence pact to share sensitive information on the threat posed by North Korea’s missile and nuclear activities.
The signing of the General Security of Military Information Agreement had originally been expected in 2012, but South Korea postponed it due to domestic opposition.
The case for the neighbors to pool intelligence has increased, however, as North Korea has been testing different types of missiles at a faster rate, and claims it has the capability to mount a nuclear warhead on a missile.
Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said the move would add a new unsafe and unstable element to northeast Asia and smacked of a Cold War mentality.
China’s reaction underscores Beijing’s growing unhappiness with what it sees as an unfavorable shift in the region’s security balance. Tokyo and Seoul have adopted a more hawkish line against North Korea and are pursuing closer bilateral ties, in the wake of Pyongyang’s increasingly provocative nuclear weapons testing. South Korea and Japan are by no means natural allies; the relationship is clouded by both strategic differences and lingering historical animosities. Yet the increased security threat coming from North Korea has put those differences on the back burner for now.
The United States has played a key role in reinforcing that trend, bringing the two countries together for missile defense drills, facilitating early talks on intelligence sharing, and announcing the deployment of THAAD anti-missile systems to South Korea, over the vociferous objections of Beijing. China views such moves, part of the Obama Administration’s Asia rebalance, as a threat to its own standing in the region. But as China stamps its feet over the ongoing rapprochement, it would do well to consider how Beijing’s own inability (or unwillingness) to restrain Pyongyang has exacerbated the problem.
In any case, Beijing has made its objections clear, but the intelligence-sharing pact is a done deal. What remains to be seen is what further measures China might take to bring Tokyo and Seoul round to a friendlier position. Beijing may play the waiting game for now, calculating that a more favorable state of affairs could soon emerge with a shakeup in leadership. Security cooperation with Japan remains unpopular in South Korea, after all, and with South Korea’s president facing a likely dismissal and Donald Trump taking the White House in January, the power dynamics in Asia could change once again.