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Seoul shares SLBM launch information with Tokyo

Oct 16,2019
South Korea offered to share military intelligence with Japan on North Korea’s submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) test earlier this month due to Tokyo’s misinformed understanding of the launch, a high-level official in Seoul told the JoongAng Ilbo Monday.

According to the official, the South Korean government resolved to put the soon-to-expire General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) into effect by sharing information collected by its military on Pyongyang’s SLBM test on Oct. 2 after Japan incorrectly announced that morning that not one but two projectiles had been fired.

“We requested intelligence sharing with Japan based on an internal assessment in the government that we should help out a friendly country,” the official said. “We were not looking for additional information from Japan with this request, but rather passed on our independent analysis of the Pukguksong-3’s flight trajectory.”

At 7:11 a.m. on Oct. 2, North Korea fired what Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said was likely a submarine-launched Pukguksong-class ballistic missile, off the coast of Wonsan, Kangwon Province. The rocket flew approximately 450 kilometers (280 miles) before landing in the East Sea, according to the JCS.

In a press briefing at 7:58 a.m., Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga claimed that two ballistic missiles had been fired, with one landing near the North Korean coast and the other in waters in the East Sea that were within Japan’s exclusive economic zone near the island of Dogojima in the Shimane Prefecture.

Hours later, however, after South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense announced at 10:29 a.m. that it only detected one SLBM launch, Suga appeared to retract his government’s earlier assessment, saying at 11:35 a.m. that “one ballistic missile may have split off into two as it landed.”

According to the South Korean official, Seoul’s military had already detected signs of a North Korean missile test a day earlier and had been closely monitoring the launch site near Wonsan since Oct. 1.

The intelligence sharing on the SLBM launch was the ninth time South Korea and Japan put Gsomia into effect after North Korean weapons tests this year, and the first time Seoul took the initiative to do so. As a result of Japan’s economic retaliations toward South Korea over the issue of wartime forced labor, Seoul announced in August it will not renew Gsomia after it expires on Nov. 22.

Saying Seoul would continue to faithfully exercise the agreement upon Tokyo’s request until its end on Nov. 22, another South Korean government source said the rationale behind this month’s intel-sharing on the North’s weapons test “was to rectify a prevalent notion in the Japanese government that our [South Korea’s] intelligence was of low-value.”

There was, however, no acknowledgement from Japan on the importance of South Korean military intelligence. During an upper house session at the country’s parliament on Oct. 9, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dismissed the implication that a lack of bilateral cooperation with Seoul led to an erroneous initial assessment on the SLBM launch, saying that the end of Gsomia “does not have a direct effect on the security of Japan.”

BY LEE CHUL-JAE [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]