(ATTN: ADDS background, North Korean media's reaction in last four paras)
SEOUL, June 28 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is set to sign a military pact with Japan on Friday, marking the first military agreement between the two historical rivals, a senior Seoul official said Thursday, despite lingering bitterness over Tokyo's colonial atrocities.
Japan notified South Korea that its Cabinet would approve the pact Friday and the signing will be made in Tokyo immediately after the endorsement, the foreign ministry official said. South Korea's Cabinet already approved the pact on Tuesday.
The pact, named the 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, Seoul officials said earlier.
"If things go as planned, the two nations will sign the pact on Friday," the official said on condition of anonymity.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Byung-jae said he could not confirm the notification from Japan, but conceded the deal could be signed on Friday.
"I think signing of the pact will be possible tomorrow afternoon if there is no particular problem," Cho told reporters during a press briefing.
Cho denied media speculation that South Korea was prodded to sign the agreement by the United States, which has urged Seoul and Tokyo, its two closet Asian allies, to strengthen military ties amid growing hostility from North Korea and the rise of China.
However, the spokesman stressed the need to increase three-way military cooperation between Seoul, Washington and Tokyo.
"Many people would agree in principle that Korea-U.S.-Japan cooperation is important in terms of our security, but it is not the truth that the pact has been hastily pushed," Cho said.
About 28,500 U.S. troops, mostly ground soldiers, are stationed in South Korea and more than 35,000 U.S. troops, mainly consisting of navy, air force and marines, are stationed in Japan.
Ministry officials said the U.S. forces in Japan would become a rear guard for the U.S. forces in South Korea in case of hostilities on the Korean Peninsula.
Officials said the pact with Japan is taking aim at the rise of China, allowing Seoul and Tokyo to share sensitive military information about Beijing.
Since early 2011, Seoul and Tokyo have been in talks to forge two military pacts, the GSOMIA and an accord on military logistics called the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA).
Seoul decided to shelve the ACSA, which could allow Japanese troops to enter South Korean territory, because of its sensitivity.
However, the official hinted at going ahead with the military logistic pact with Japan.
"Talks on the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement have been shelved because more time is needed for further consultations," the official said.
South Korea's ambassador to Japan, Shin Kak-soo, and Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba are likely to sign the military intelligence pact in Tokyo on Friday, according to the official.
South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin had planned to visit Japan last month to sign the GSOMIA but put the visit on hold due to some territorial and other unresolved issues that have arisen from their shared past. Japan ruled the Korean Peninsula as a colony from 1910-45.
Military cooperation is one sensitive area that needs to be addressed in Seoul-Tokyo relations, but the two nations have lately agreed on the need to expand cooperation in the defense sector in the face of increasing military threats from North Korea, especially after the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
Many Koreans still harbor deep resentment toward Japan because of its brutal colonial rule. A series of disputes over history and territorial issues stemming from the colonial rule have plagued relations between the two countries for decades, though they are key trading partners for each other.
A North Korean propaganda media outlet criticized the South Korean government for moving to sign the pact with Japan, calling it an "unpatriotic act."
The article posted on Thursday on the Uriminzokkiri (Among our People) Web site run by North Korea claimed that, "There is an urgent reason for South Korea to sign a military pact with Japan. That is the pressure from the United States."
The article also described the pact between South Korea and Japan as a "confrontation and cooperation agreement" against North Korea.
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