03/17/2023, 12.43
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Yoon in Tokyo relaunches economic and military cooperation

by Guido Alberto Casanova

The first trip to Japan by a Seoul president in 12 years has resulted in agreements on the export of microchip components and intelligence cooperation against Pyongyang's actions. But the real obstacle to further agreements will be overcoming the historical mutual distrust still rooted in public opinion.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) - After a 12-year absence, a South Korean president has finally returned for an official visit to Japan. Conservative President Yoon Suk-yeol was welcomed in Tokyo yesterday by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for a two-day visit in which the two Asian democracies are expected to try to mend fences.

Despite the many similarities between the two countries, relations between Japan and South Korea in recent years have reached one of the lowest points in their recent history.

At the root of the disagreement that has undermined both trade and military ties is the controversial memory of the Japanese colonisation of Korea and the many abuses it entailed for the South Korean population, which today several decades later demands justice for the victims of that time.

Notably marring relations between the two countries had been a Seoul Supreme Court verdict in 2018 ordering two Japanese companies to compensate some South Korean citizens for forcing them into forced labour during the colonial period. Yoon's visit comes after the South Korean government last week proposed a plan to resolve the court dispute.

The resumption of bilateral meetings is undoubtedly the first result of the visit. Last May at the NATO summit in Madrid, just a few weeks after Yoon took office, Kishida had not found time to sit down with the president of the other major East Asian democracy allied with the United States and their conversation had lasted barely 3-4 minutes.

Today, however, according to the Asahi Shimbun, Kishida is reportedly considering the feasibility of visiting South Korea in turn this summer.

The meeting, however, also brought concrete results. The Tokyo government in fact announced the removal of export restrictions to South Korea on three components necessary for the manufacture of microchips (the production of which is one of the spearheads of the South Korean economy) and of which the country holds a near-monopoly.

At the same time, Seoul decided to drop the case against Japan that it had initiated at the World Trade Organisation in 2019.

The two countries are also trying to come together militarily. Defence cooperation is probably even more important than economic cooperation, considering that North Korea has stepped up its missile provocations in recent years. In fact, the 2016 agreement on intelligence cooperation, known as GSOMIA, had fallen into crisis in recent years and the exchange of information is thought to have been extremely limited due to political mistrust between Japan and South Korea.

Yesterday, however, Yoon declared the complete normalisation of GSOMIA, stating that 'the two countries should be able to share information on North Korean missile launches and trajectories'.

The real problem for the resumption of relations, however, will undoubtedly be public opinion. While the Japanese seem to be largely supportive of the proposed resolution of the historical dispute that is at the root of the current poor state of relations, polls in South Korea show that the majority of the population is still suspicious of Tokyo.

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