Seoul: South Korea and Japan made a last-minute decision on Friday to delay the signing of their first military pact since Japan`s colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula.
The two countries had originally planned to sign the accord, called the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), at 4 pm in Tokyo.
The pact, if signed, would have allowed the two sides to exchange military intelligence on Democratic People`s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and its nuclear and missile programs.
In a clandestine move that was not immediately made public, the South Korean Cabinet endorsed the pact earlier this week and completed domestic procedures to seal the deal.
Shin Kak-soo, the Seoul`s top envoy to Tokyo, and Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba were expected to sign the watershed pact on Friday.
The eleventh-hour decision to put off the signing came after the ruling Saenuri Party asked the government to allow Parliament to review the accord, citing negative public opinion and procedural controversies.
The Foreign Ministry here now plans to discuss the pact with lawmakers once the new parliamentary session opens next Monday.
In a country where the anti-Japan sentiment still runs deep, sharing military intelligence with the former coloniser somehow remains a taboo.
Seoul and Tokyo still remain at odds over various historical issues, including the persistent territorial disputes over a set of islets and Korean women who were forced into sex slavery during World War II.
The two Asian powers have pushed for military agreements since 2011, but opposition lawmakers and progressive civic activists have strongly resisted what they said would be a source of fresh regional tension and a boon for Japanese right-wing extremists.
Such criticism pressured the South Korean government last month into suspending the signing of a separate military agreement with Japan, called the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA).
The deal, if signed, would have allowed exchanges of supplies including fuel and weapons between the South Korean military and Japan`s Self-Defence Forces.
The main opposition Democratic United Party said a mere delay would be insufficient.
"The agreement should be completely repealed," the centre-left said in a statement, urging Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik to step down over the controversial Cabinet approval.
Some observers have said Seoul was prodded into signing the deal as the United States, which has troops stationed in both South Korea and Japan, places an increasing emphasis on trilateral security cooperation in the region.
Washington has initiated joint drills and talks involving top defence officials of the three countries.
The Foreign Ministry here has rejected allegations of Washington’s influence, saying there are "misunderstandings" and "excessive conjecture" surrounding the agreement.