(7th LD) Yoon announces 'complete normalization' of military intel-sharing pact with Japan
(ATTN: UPDATES with more remarks from press conference, background; CHANGES photos)
By Lee Haye-ah
TOKYO, March 16 (Yonhap) -- President Yoon Suk Yeol said Thursday he agreed to "completely normalize" a military intelligence-sharing pact between South Korea and Japan to better respond to North Korea's nuclear and missile threats.
Yoon made the remark after a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, referring to the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) that Seoul's previous administration threatened to suspend amid a bilateral dispute over wartime forced labor.
"I declared the complete normalization of GSOMIA at our summit a short while ago," Yoon said at a joint press conference at the prime minister's residence. "I believe the two countries should be able to share information on North Korea's nuclear missile launches and trajectories, and respond to them."
Signed in 2016, GSOMIA was seen as a rare symbol of security cooperation between Seoul and Tokyo before the former administration of President Moon Jae-in decided to terminate it in 2019 in protest of Tokyo's export restrictions against Seoul.
The decision was later put on hold, but the amount of information-sharing between the neighboring countries is thought to have been limited, as their relations remained strained over disputes stemming from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
Yoon said his decision to fully restore the pact was made in the context of a separate decision to resolve a long-running dispute over compensation for Koreans forced into hard labor for Japanese companies when Korea was under Japan's colonial rule from 1910-1945.
South Korea's Supreme Court in 2018 ordered two Japanese companies -- Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries -- to compensate the Korean forced labor victims.
Under Seoul's plan announced last week, a public foundation affiliated with the interior ministry will compensate the victims with donations from domestic businesses, a solution that has already been rejected by some of the victims for the lack of participation by Japanese firms.
Yoon said South Korea has no plans to seek reimbursement from Japan after compensating the victims.
Kishida told the press conference the Japanese government "assesses" the solution to be a bid to restore the bilateral relationship to a "healthy relationship."
He also reaffirmed the Japanese government inherits on the whole the historical perceptions of past governments, including the 1998 joint declaration adopted by former President Kim Dae-jung and former Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi
That declaration called for overcoming the past and building new relations, with Obuchi expressing remorse for the "horrendous damage and pain" Japan's colonial rule inflicted on the Korean people.
The summit took place at the prime minister's official residence hours after the South Korean president arrived in the country on a highly symbolic trip in the wake of the resolution of the row over wartime forced labor.
Shortly before Yoon's departure, North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile into the East Sea, a provocation that underlined the need for closer security cooperation between Seoul and Tokyo as well as for trilateral cooperation with the United States.
"Prime Minister Kishida and I agreed that North Korea's nuclear and missile development threatens peace on the Korean Peninsula, in Northeast Asia and in the world," Yoon said.
"We also agreed that in order to respond to the North's nuclear and missile threats that are getting more sophisticated by the day, cooperation among South Korea, the United States and Japan, and between South Korea and Japan, is extremely important, and that we should continue to actively cooperate," he said.
Yoon's two-day visit is South Korea's first bilateral presidential trip to the neighboring nation in 12 years, an illustration of how long the relations between the two countries have been frayed over historical disputes.
Ahead of the summit, which was preceded by a joint inspection of an honor guard at the prime minister's residence, the two governments and business communities announced a series of agreements aimed at improving the bilateral relationship.
Japan agreed to lift its restrictions on exports of key industrial materials for semiconductors and displays, which had been placed on South Korea in 2019 in apparent response to the forced labor dispute.
Seoul's trade ministry said shortly before the summit it would withdraw its complaint with the World Trade Organization over the export controls.
The two countries' big business lobbies also said they would each create a fund to promote joint research and youth exchanges.
Yoon kicked off his working visit by meeting with Korean residents over lunch. This is his first visit to Japan since taking office and the first by a South Korean president in nearly four years.
Former President Moon visited Osaka in 2019, but that trip was for a G-20 summit, not a bilateral visit.
The last bilateral visit was by former President Lee Myung-bak in December 2011.
Yoon and Kishida said they agreed to resume shuttle diplomacy, or regular visits to each other's countries.
They later had dinner together.
On Friday, Yoon plans to meet with members of the Japan-Korea Parliamentarians' Union and the Korea-Japan Cooperation Committee, hold a business roundtable over lunch with key business leaders from both countries, and speak to Japanese and South Korean college students at Keio University.
First lady Kim Keon Hee is accompanying Yoon on the trip and will attend various events, including a meeting with Kishida's wife, Yuko.
Yoon and Kishida have held bilateral summits on the sidelines of multilateral gatherings. They met during the U.N. General Assembly in New York in September and again during a gathering led by Southeast Asian nations in Cambodia in November.
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