South Korea's Yoon says Japan will return to trade 'white list'

By Reuters   March 20, 2023 | 11:46 pm PT
South Korea's Yoon says Japan will return to trade 'white list'
Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korea's President Yoon Suk Yeol attend a meeting at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo, Japan, March 16, 2023. Photo by Reuters/Kiyoshi Ota
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said on Tuesday he would restore Japan's fast-track trade status after a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida last week, a move he called crucial for bolstering supply chains in key areas.

Yoon announced the decision at a cabinet meeting, saying South Korea and Japan should make efforts to remove obstacles that hinder developing bilateral ties.

"I will preemptively order our trade minister today to begin necessary legal procedures to have Japan back on our white list," Yoon told the meeting, which was televised live. "I'm sure Japan will respond if South Korea first starts removing the obstacles."

South Korea and Japan removed each other from the list in 2019 amid a decades-old row over a 2018 South Korean court order for Japanese companies to compensate forced labourers during Japan's 1910-45 occupation of Korea.

Tokyo criticised the ruling, saying the issue was resolved under a 1965 treaty that normalised relations, and the strained ties fanned concerns over U.S.-led efforts to bolster cooperation to counter North Korea's nuclear and missile threats.

Yoon, who took office in May, has vowed to mend the bilateral ties and visited Tokyo last week for the first time in 12 years as a South Korean leader.

Yoon is pushing to resolve the forced labour feud through a plan unveiled this month under which a public foundation, funded by South Korean companies, would pay compensation.

The plan was welcomed in Tokyo but faced a backlash from some victims and South Korean opposition lawmakers, who accused Yoon of capitulating to Tokyo and inviting Japanese troops back to the Korean peninsula.

Yoon said that some people would seek political gain by fuelling "hostile nationalism and anti-Japan sentiment," without naming them, but that it was irresponsible to do so as the president.

He also accused his predecessor's government of leaving relations in a "quagmire" at the expense of crucial economic, security and people-to-people exchanges.

"I felt like I was trapped in a maze with no exit, but I couldn't just sit back and watch," Yoon said.

Kishida told him at the summit that he would uphold Japan's past apologies for wartime atrocities, including a 1998 declaration focusing on colonial rule, Yoon said, adding that now is the time for the two neighbours to go beyond the past.

"The relationship is not a zero-sum one where one side gains and the other side loses as much. It can and must be a win-win," he said.

Better ties would help build stable supply chains in high-tech industries such as semiconductors by linking South Korea's manufacturing technology with Japan's edge in materials, parts and equipment, he said.

The U.S. has called for greater trilateral cooperation with its key two Asian allies on economic security.

As a follow-up to the summit, Seoul's foreign ministry said on Tuesday it had normalised an intelligence-sharing pact, known as GSOMIA, with Tokyo to foster closer security cooperation on North Korea.

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