A conditional extension of a military intelligence-sharing pact between Japan and South Korea is likely to irritate the North, which could cast a further shadow over its already stalled nuclear talks with the United States.
Some analysts argue that Seoul's decision to temporarily extend the General Security of Military Information Agreement, or GSOMIA, will help maintain its trilateral defense cooperation with Tokyo and Washington, working as a deterrence to Pyongyang.
Others, however, voice fears that such a move could make North Korea more reluctant to take part in denuclearization negotiations with the United States and prompt leader Kim Jong Un to step up provocations including ballistic missile tests.
"Although South Korea and Japan may have made a last-ditch effort to save GSOMIA in consideration of regional security, the North will condemn the South and Japan for bending their knees before the United States," a diplomatic source in Beijing said.
"Given that the United States urged the two security allies to keep GSOMIA alive, the North will of course rap the United States. In the worst case scenario, it could close a door for dialogue with the United States and escalate provocative actions," he added.
On Friday, South Korea decided conditionally to delay its earlier plan to terminate the pact with Japan by midnight Friday, following 11th-hour negotiations with its neighbor, the presidential office said.
GSOMIA was signed on Nov. 23, 2016, under South Korean President Moon Jae In's predecessor Park Geun Hye against a backdrop of growing concerns over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.
The pact had been set to lapse after South Korea announced in August its decision not to renew it in response to Japan's tightening of export controls, amid long-running tensions over wartime issues.
Later Friday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters that he believes South Korea's last-minute decision against letting GSOMIA expire was a "strategic" one in view of the North Korean threat.
"It's extremely important for Japan and South Korea, as well as the United States, to cooperate and coordinate to cope with North Korea. I have repeatedly made that clear," Abe added.
Stephen Nagy, a senior associate professor at International Christian University in Tokyo, said North Korea "hoped for an ending of GSOMIA."
"We should be cautious about the action to not let the agreement expire. It doesn't mean the parties will share intelligence. It only means that the (Japan-South Korea) framework remains intact," Nagy added.
South Korea's announcement came as North Korea has warned it would restart nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests if negotiations with the United States fail to attain a breakthrough by the end of this year.
Calling GSOMIA the "triangular military alliance," North Korea has asked the South and Japan to scrap the agreement.
GSOMIA "is a collective work done by the treacherous and conservative regime (of the South) and the most typical evil in the fields of diplomacy and security," the state-run Korean Central News Agency said in a commentary in September.
In another commentary released this month, KCNA said the U.S. administration of President Donald Trump "is desperately pressurizing south Korea to renew GSOMIA, which south Korea decided to abrogate as a retaliatory step."
"This sheds light on the black-hearted intention of the U.S. which makes no scruple of reducing south Korea to an economic colony and vassal one of Japan for the sake of their military interests," the news agency added.
As denuclearization negotiations have remained at a standstill, North Korea "is certain to strengthen its criticism of the United States," a source familiar with Pyongyang's mindset said.
Last week, the United States and South Korea offered an olive branch to the North by announcing their decision to postpone joint air defense exercises scheduled for later this month. Pyongyang has denounced such drills as rehearsals for an invasion.
But North Korea has claimed Washington should abandon its "hostile policy" if it wants to move ahead with the nuclear talks. Ensuring the continuation of the monolithic political system led by the Kim family is seen as the primary goal of Pyongyang.
"Kim Jong Un will definitely regard the extension of GSOMIA as U.S. 'hostile policy' against North Korea," the source said. "It's possible that North Korea will take a tougher line against the United States."
Since earlier this year, North Korea has carried out test-firings of what appeared to be short-range ballistic missiles apparently in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions banning Pyongyang from developing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.
"It's easy to imagine that North Korea will launch more advanced missiles in an attempt to extract concessions from Trump, who is eager to secure diplomatic achievements in the run-up to next year's presidential election," the diplomatic source said.
Washington and Pyongyang remain technically in a state of war after the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in a cease-fire. The two countries have no diplomatic relations.