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Yoon, Kishida vow new era of ties

Leaders to resume shuttle diplomacy, bolster trilateral alliance to deter NK threats, restore economic ties

March 16, 2023 - 19:41 By Shin Ji-hye
President Yoon Suk Yeol shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the prime minister's office in Tokyo on Thursday prior to the summit meeting. (Yonhap)

President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida agreed to open up a new era of Korea-Japan ties during their summit in Tokyo on Thursday, stressing the need to bolster security and economic cooperation for future generations and to deter evolving threats from North Korea.

Yoon said the summit, the first in 12 years, signified a fresh start of bilateral ties, calling Japan a partner with common values and goals. The two leaders also agreed to resume “shuttle diplomacy” that is “free from any format,” and to normalize a suspended military intelligence sharing pact and restore consultations between the two governments on diplomatic, economic and cultural relations.

At the press conference held after the summit, Kishida said, without an apology, that Japan would inherit historic awareness of previous Japanese cabinets, including the Japan-South Korea joint declaration of 1998. The two also said they have no plans to seek reimbursement from Japan in terms of compensation for forced labor victims.

The two leaders met just 10 days after Seoul announced its plan to compensate Korean victims who were forced to work during the Japanese colonial period of World War II.

Relations between South Korea and Japan began to deteriorate after former President Lee Myung-bak visited Dokdo in 2012. The relationship soured even further when South Korea’s top court ruled that Japanese companies should compensate victims forced to work during Japan’s colonial period in World War II and Japan retaliated by imposing export regulations on Korean chip materials.

The thorny relationship began to thaw after Yoon announced the plan to compensate victims of forced laborers through a third-party fund despite the political risk, and in return, Kishida invited him to Japan.

“This year marks the 25th anniversary of the ‘Kim Dae-jung-Obuchi joint declaration’ announced in 1998 to face the past and develop a relationship based on mutual understanding and trust,” said President Yoon in his opening speech at a joint press briefing.

“It was the first step toward overcoming the unfortunate history between the two countries and opening a new era of cooperation between Korea and Japan by inheriting a progressive spirit,” Yoon said.

“In the future, the two leaders will continue to actively communicate and cooperate through shuttle diplomacy by meeting whenever necessary, regardless of formalities,” he added.

The two leaders agreed to strengthen their military ties against North Korea’s ongoing threats.

President Yoon said, “If bilateral relations are normalized and developed through the announcement of this solution, it will be of great help in responding to the security crisis in both countries first.”

“In that sense, at the summit a little while ago, GSOMIA (General Security of Military Information Agreement) has been declared completely normalized.”

The two governments announced their decision to restore the GSOMIA pact. This was the first military pact agreed upon by South Korea and Japan in November 2016. Under the pact, both nations shared confidential military information related to North Korea’s social trends, military activities and nuclear missiles.

Although military information has been shared between the two countries through the pact, its legal status has remained unstable over the past few years. In 2019 under the Moon Jae-in administration, it was extended under the condition that it could be canceled at any time.

According to a senior presidential official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the normalization of the GSOMIA pact means that South Korea will withdraw the notice of termination that was made by the previous Moon administration. The official also noted that the status of the pact has been ambiguous in terms of formality.

Kishida said they would resume security talks between South Korea and Japan that had been suspended for a long time and launch a new economic security consultative body.

Mentioning North Korea’s launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile on the same day, he confirmed the importance of cooperation between South Korea, Japan and the US in responding to North Korea.

On the day of the summit, the Federation of Korean Industries in South Korea and the Federation of Economic Organizations in Japan announced the creation of a future partnership fund, with each side contributing 100 million yen ($751,850).

On the occasion of Yoon’s visit, Japan decided to lift export restrictions on three key semiconductor materials to Korea. At the same time, the South Korean government also decided to withdraw its complaint to the World Trade Organization against Japan’s measures on three items.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy announced on the same day that Japan has decided to lift export restrictions imposed on South Korea for three semiconductor materials: hydrogen fluoride, fluorinated polyimide and photoresist.

The two governments agreed to engage in close discussions regarding the whitelist, which is a list of countries that receive benefits in simplifying export procedures.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy described this agreement as the “cornerstone of cooperation between Korea and Japan.”

Industry Minister Lee Chang-yang said in a briefing at the Tokyo Press Center in Japan, “This agreement is not just about resolving export restrictions, but the first step in building trust (between Korea and Japan).”

“It is still very difficult to judge the economic effect,” said Kang Gam-chan, trade security policy officer at the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy.

Restoring the whitelist is expected to take some time.

Regarding this, Minister Lee explained, “Japan has to decide at the cabinet meeting the ordinance corresponding to the presidential decree of Korea, and we have to go through the process of revising the notification of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy.”

Despite expectations that Kishida would express an apology over the nation’s past atrocities, his comments at the summit were limited to mentioning the 1998 Kim Dae-jung and Obuchi Declarations.

When asked by a reporter about the disappointment of Koreans at the lack of an apology from Kishida, a high-ranking official in the Korean presidential office responded, "Japanese emperors and prime ministers have apologized more than 50 times in the past," and added that receiving another apology would be meaningless.