Photo/Illutration South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks during a Cabinet meeting at the president office in Seoul on March 21. (Yonhap via AP)

SEOUL--South Korea’s Foreign Ministry announced on March 21 that it will “normalize” a vital military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan that it had threatened to scrap in 2019 amid rocky bilateral relations. 

The ministry communicated to Japan through a diplomatic channel that day the retraction of a notice to withdraw from the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), an issue that has remained unresolved between the two nations.

In addition, on the two countries’ removal of each other from their “white list” of preferred trade partners, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol at a meeting in his office on March 21 announced the start of legal procedures to return Japan to its list without waiting for a reciprocal move.

The administration of Moon Jae-in, Yoon’s predecessor, sent a notice to Japan in August 2019 that it was terminating the GSOMIA, an agreement that facilitates the sharing of confidential security information between the two nations.

With the persuasion of the United States, the Moon administration suspended the effect of the notice but didn’t withdraw it.

On March 21, South Korea informed the Japanese side of the withdrawal of both the notice and the suspension of its effect.

The notice to terminate the agreement was one of the factors that led to the deterioration in the two countries’ relationship.

Other factors include compensation for former Korean laborers who worked for Japanese companies during World War II and Japan’s tighter controls on exports to South Korea.

Yoon had said at a news conference on March 16 after meeting with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo that his country would normalize the sharing of military intelligence under the GSOMIA.


Yoon also said at the March 21 meeting that Japan has already expressed remorse and apologized to South Korea “several dozens of times” concerning its past colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

During the meeting, he sought understanding from the South Korean public about the moves to improve bilateral ties such as his government’s announcement of a “solution” to the wartime labor dispute as well as his recent summit with Kishida.

Yoon said, “From now on, we have to communicate with Japan proudly and confidently.”

The South Korean government announced on March 6 a solution to the wartime labor row.

It said that it will have a government-affiliated foundation pay the former wartime laborers the compensation that the Japanese companies were ordered to pay by the South Korean Supreme Court in autumn 2018.

In return, the Japanese government said that it will assume the historical perception expressed by previous administrations that included the “deep remorse” and “heartfelt apology” for the colonial rule.

Yoon met Kishida in Tokyo on March 16 specifically for a bilateral summit for the first time in 12 years in one of their respective countries. 

They agreed at the meeting that the two countries would restore normalization of ties in regard to other unresolved issues in addition to the labor dispute.

Yoon said at the March 21 meeting that its solution is “the middle course” between Japan’s stance that all compensation claims stemming from the colonial rule were settled under a bilateral agreement in 1965, and the South Korean Supreme Court’s ruling ordering Japanese companies to pay compensation to former Korean laborers.

The South Korean president said, “I will do my best to heal the suffering of victims of the forced labor and their families.”

During the meeting, Yoon praised Kishida’s response to the wartime labor issue saying that the Japanese prime minister once again clarified at their summit that his government has “comprehensively” inherited the remorse and apology expressed by the previous administrations.

Yoon also said that South Korea and Japan “will be able to create stable supply networks in high-tech industries such as semiconductor chips” if improved bilateral relations lead to more cooperation among companies in the two countries.

(This article was written by Takuya Suzuki and Kiyohide Inada in Seoul.)