South Korea suspended a decision to end an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan on Friday, just hours before it was due to go into effect, providing the first signs of compromise after several months of feuding over trade and historical grievances.
The late change of heart announced by the presidential Blue House should be greeted with relief by South Korea and Japan’s mutual ally, the United States.
U.S. officials have been pressuring the neighbours to set aside their differences over history to maintain the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), seen as an important element of trilateral security cooperation in Asia.
“This government has decided to suspend our notice of Aug. 23 on the Korea-Japan intelligence agreement on the condition the agreement can be terminated at any time,” said Kim You-geun, Deputy Director of South Korea’s national security office.
“Japan has expressed its understanding,” Kim said in a briefing.
South Korea had given Japan notice in August that it would stop sharing intelligence, after Japan imposed restrictions on the export to South Korea of materials necessary for its semiconductor and display industries.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said South Korea had made a “strategic decision” in sticking with the intelligence-sharing pact and that bilateral relations were vital.
Japan’s trade ministry said it hoped to hold talks with South Korea on export controls, but it would not immediately put South Korea back on the trade “white list” that fast-tracks exports to the neighbouring country.
Speaking in Nagoya, where a G20 ministerial meeting was underway, Japan’s Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said security cooperation between the two countries was crucial.
“My understanding is that the South Korean government took this strategic decision, given the current security environment,” Motegi told reporters.
While the two U.S. allies are both concerned by China’s increasing assertiveness in the region, and the potential threat from North Korea, their relations remain troubled by grievances stemming from Japan’s 1910-45 colonization of the Korean peninsula.
South Korea, which has said Japan must lift its trade restrictions, and Japan, which called for the security pact to be maintained, announced the developments hours before the pact was set to expire at midnight on Friday.
GSOMIA was sealed in 2016 after a years-long U.S. push for a better joint response to North Korea’s growing military threat.