South Korea Restoring Japan in Trade Whitelist to Jointly Bolster Supply Chains

South Korean President Yoon said he would restore Japan’s place in the trade whitelist after his meeting in Tokyo last week with Japanese Prime Minister Kishida. Yoon called the decision crucial for bolstering supply chains in key sectors. He added that the two countries should make efforts to remove barriers that damage the development of bilateral ties. 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 laborers during Japan’s 1910-45 occupation of Korea.

“I will preemptively order our trade minister today to begin necessary legal procedures to have Japan back on our white list,” Yoon told in a cabinet meeting. “I’m sure Japan will respond if South Korea first starts removing the obstacles.”

South Korea’s 2018 ruling was criticized by Japan, who said the issue was resolved under a 1965 treaty that normalized relations, and the strained ties caused 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 pledged to fix 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 by Tokyo but faced criticism at home from opposition lawmakers, who accused Yoon of capitulating to Tokyo.

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.

Yoon further stated that Kishida told him at the summit he would uphold Japan’s past apologies for wartime atrocities, including a 1998 declaration focusing on colonial rule. He added that now is the time for the two neighbors 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.

The two sides hope better ties would help build stronger supply chains, especially in high tech industries including semiconductors by connecting South Korea’s manufacturing technology with Japan’s expertise in materials, parts and equipment.

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, South Korean foreign ministry said on Tuesday it had normalized an intelligence-sharing pact, known as GSOMIA, with Tokyo to foster closer security cooperation on North Korea.

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