South Korea's last-minute decision to not let a key bilateral military intelligence exchange mechanism with Japan lapse is a welcome development in North-east Asia. It came after intense pressure from the United States. Seoul had said three months ago that it would not renew the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) signed with Japan three years ago. While GSOMIA is normally an unremarkable document used by many nations to exchange confidential information, it had taken on added significance in the South Korea-Japan context of fraying bilateral ties. That this improvement is tenuous at best was underlined by Seoul's brinkmanship in labelling its decision as "provisional".
While it denies the connection, the sequence of events that led to South Korea threatening to withdraw from GSOMIA came after Japan, saying it was concerned about Seoul's lax security protocols in the export of sensitive materials, removed South Korea from a so-called White List for which prior approval for export of sensitive products was not required. Since Tokyo's move came after South Korea's Supreme Court ordered Japanese firms to pay compensation for using Korean wartime labour - an issue Japan says was finally and fully settled in a 1965 bilateral pact - the inference was that Tokyo was retaliating after assessing that the Moon administration did not do enough to convince the courts to rule differently.