Make Visit Starting Point for New Amicable Bilateral Relations

Hopefully this opportunity will not only help restore the deteriorating relations between Japan and South Korea, but also be a starting point to build a new friendly relationship that can deal with drastic changes in the international situation.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol visits Japan today (Thursday) to meet with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. This is the first trip to Japan by a South Korean president in about 12 years, other than visits to attend international conferences held in Japan.

Diplomacy between the leaders of the two countries has been stalled for a long time because past South Korean administrations have continued to use issues of historical perception to take a position calling for reflection and action from Japan.

The Yoon administration, which was launched last year, has changed this stance. It has presented a solution to an issue that has been a stumbling block for the two nations, concerning lawsuits linked to wartime requisitioned workers from the Korean Peninsula, by not asking Japan to pay compensation to the plaintiffs but by handling the matter within South Korea. That must have been a courageous decision.

During an interview with Shoichi Oikawa, representative director and chairman of the board, and senior deputy editor-in-chief of The Yomiuri Shimbun Holdings, Yoon stressed that it is the responsibility of a political leader to resolve the issue of former wartime requisitioned workers. Yoon also made it clear that he would not use relations with Japan for domestic politics.

However, opinion surveys in South Korea have found that less than half of the respondents are in favor of the solution plan that Seoul announced. More than a few people in Japan are also skeptical that this approach will be able to prevent the issue from being rehashed. It is hoped that Yoon will hold true to his words and follow a consistent policy.

Most notable in Yoon’s remarks may be his awareness that normalizing Japan-South Korea relations is in the interest of the international community as a whole. If Tokyo and Seoul can deepen cooperation on a wide range of issues, including security, the economy and climate change, their friendly relationship would take on a new dimension.

Behind Yoon’s positive attitude toward Japan may be his belief that progress in bilateral relations is essential for South Korea to survive amid a severe international environment. South Korea alone cannot deal with the threat from North Korea, which is accelerating its nuclear and missile development.

How to maintain economic relations with China, which is building up military capabilities, is also a challenge for South Korea. There can be no further delay in strengthening cooperation between Japan and South Korea, as well as among Japan, the United States and South Korea.

Yoon expressed his understanding of Japan’s decision to possess counterattack capabilities that would enable it to attack missile-launch bases and other targets in enemy territory. He also emphasized the need for the immediate sharing between Japan and South Korea of radar information that can detect and track missiles.

Yoon’s broad perspective and awareness of reality will serve as a foundation to promote defense cooperation between Japan and South Korea. For Washington, too, it can be said that an environment has finally been created in which Japan, the United States and South Korea can work together to strengthen deterrence.

Following his visit to Japan this time, Yoon is scheduled to travel to the United States in April. It is vital for the leaders of Japan, the United States and South Korea to deepen communication through frequent visits among each other.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 16, 2023)