Yoon, Kishida promises better ties between Seoul and Tokyo

Norman Ray
Norman Ray

Global Courant 2023-05-08 13:32:23

Seoul, South Korea — South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on Monday called on officials to outline specific steps to speed up security and economic cooperation with Japan following his weekend summit in Seoul with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

At Sunday’s rally, Kishida expressed his condolences to the Koreans forced into industrial slavery during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910-1945, when the leaders pledged to overcome historical grievances and strengthen cooperation in the face of a nuclear North Korea and other challenges.

The summit, the second meeting between the leaders in less than two months, drew mixed reactions in South Korea. Critics, including Yoon’s liberal opponents who control the majority in the National Assembly, said Kishida’s remarks contained no meaningful apology and accused Yoon of letting Japan go off the hook for his past aggressions while pushing for the restoration of the bilateral ties.

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Others saw the summit as a sign that the two main US allies are finally making progress after years of bickering in stepping up their three-pronged partnership with Washington.

After the summit, Yoon said Seoul, Tokyo and Washington are in talks to implement their earlier agreement on expediting information sharing on North Korean missile tests. Yoon also said he would not rule out Japan’s possible participation in future nuclear deterrence talks between Washington and Seoul to better deal with North Korean nuclear threats.

Yoon, Kishida and President Joe Biden are expected to hold a trilateral meeting later this month on the sidelines of the Hiroshima Group of Seven rallies to discuss North Korea and the geopolitical uncertainties created by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and China’s assertive foreign policy. Although South Korea is not a G-7 country, Yoon was invited as one of eight outreach countries.

Meeting with his main sectarians on Monday, Yoon instructed them to establish follow-up measures to implement bilateral security, economic and technological cooperation and facilitate culture and youth exchanges between the countries, which were discussed during his meeting with Kishida. Yoon’s office stopped working.

Speaking to reporters before leaving Seoul, Kishida said he hoped to further strengthen his personal relationship with Yoon and “work together to usher in a new era”.

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Kishida, who met separately with groups of South Korean lawmakers and business leaders earlier on Monday, stressed the need to facilitate people-to-people exchanges between the countries, which he said would “help further promote our mutual understanding and give breadth and depth to our relationships.”

Kishida’s visit to Seoul was a reciprocal of a mid-March trip to Tokyo by Yoon. It is the first exchange of visits between the countries’ leaders in 12 years.

The back-to-back summits were largely to resolve bitter disputes sparked by South Korean court rulings in 2018 that ordered two Japanese companies to compensate some of their former Korean employees for forced labor before the end of World War II. Those statements angered Japan, which insists that all compensation issues were settled by a 1965 treaty that normalized relations.

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The bickering led to the countries lowering each other’s trade status and Seoul’s previous liberal government threatening to make a military intelligence-sharing pact. Their strained ties hampered US efforts to build a stronger alliance to meet the challenges posed by North Korea and China.

Relations thawed after Yoon’s conservative government announced in March a domestically controversial plan to use local corporate funds to compensate victims of forced labor without demanding Japanese contributions. Yoon traveled to Tokyo later that month to meet with Kishida, and the two agreed to resume leadership-level visits and other talks. Their governments have since taken steps to withdraw their economic retaliatory measures.

Kishida’s trip to Seoul drew intense public attention in South Korea, where many people still hold a grudge over Japan’s colonial occupation.

At a press conference on Sunday, Kishida avoided making another direct apology for the colonization, but he still sympathized with the Korean victims.

He reaffirmed that his administration upholds previous Japanese governments’ positions on the colonization issue, including the landmark 1998 joint statement by then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, in which Obuchi said: “I feel acutely sorry and offer an apology from my heart.”

Kishida also said that he and Yoon would pay respect to a memorial to Korean nuclear bomb victims in Hiroshima at the G-7 meetings. He expressed South Korean food safety concerns following the 2011 Japan nuclear disaster and said Tokyo will allow South Korean experts to inspect a planned discharge of treated radioactive water from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant.

The Seoul Foreign Ministry said the South Korean inspection team will include experts from related government agencies and organizations and will soon hold talks with Japanese officials to determine their planned visit for May 23-24.

Bong Young-shik, an expert at the Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies in Seoul, said it was remarkable how Yoon’s government carefully tempered public expectations before the summit, making it easier for both governments to judge the outcome as present substantially.

“For both the South Korean and Japanese governments, the resumption of ‘shuttle diplomacy’ is a victory in itself,” he said, referring to regular visits between leaders.

Yoon had been criticized at home for pre-emptively making concessions to Tokyo without getting corresponding steps in return, and opposition politicians and some newspapers described the summit as a disappointment.

“Normalizing relations between South Korea and Japan is a necessity, and I support it, but not at the expense of our national interests, national dignity, history and justice,” said Democratic Party leader Lee Jae -myung, who narrowly lost. to Yoon in last year’s presidential race.

Conservative Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s largest newspaper by circulation, acknowledged that Kishida’s remarks were insufficient to allay South Korea’s frustrations with history, but also said the summit was addressing the “desperate” need for cooperation from reflected the countries.

“South Korea and Japan need more cooperation after recent events such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine and China’s maritime assertiveness threatening its neighbors. The need for countries to jointly respond to North Korean nuclear and missile threats is greater than ever. In addition, the countries face similar challenges related to their slowing economies and declining population growth rates.

“Now is not the time to get stuck in the past.”

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AP writers Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to the report.

More AP coverage of the Asia-Pacific region has run out

Yoon, Kishida promises better ties between Seoul and Tokyo

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