Meeting Should Serve as Turning Point to Deepen Broad Exchanges

It has been 12 years since a South Korean president has paid such a visit to Japan. This should serve as a turning point to deepen exchanges in a wide range of fields, including politics, the economy, security and culture, in order to contribute to the international community.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol held talks at the Prime Minister’s Office. The two leaders agreed to create a framework for various kinds of intergovernmental dialogue and resume a style of diplomacy in which the leaders of both countries routinely visit each other.

This was the first time since 2011 that a South Korean president visited Japan for the purpose of a bilateral summit. It was Yoon’s political decision that led to a breakthrough in bilateral relations that had been described as the “worst in the postwar era” due to issues such as lawsuits related to former requisitioned workers from the Korean Peninsula.

At a joint press conference following their meeting, Kishida said that he “values” Seoul’s measures to resolve the issue of the former requisitioned workers, which is to not ask Japan to pay compensation to the plaintiffs, but to handle the matter within South Korea. He also stressed that “Japan confirms that it upholds in its entirety the position of the previous cabinets on history.”

Yoon said that the summit was a first step forward to overcome the past unfortunate history and pave a way for a new era.

Within South Korea, there are persistent voices critical of the measures to resolve the issue. Kishida mentioned Japan’s stance to follow the position of previous cabinets on the historical perceptions probably because he gave consideration to South Korean public sentiment.

There is also a sense of caution in Japan that South Korea will rehash the historical issues. It is hoped that Yoon will persistently persuade public opinion in South Korea not to backtrack on the trend of improving Japan-South Korea relations.

Japan and South Korea need to link the normalizing of bilateral relations to the interests of both countries as well as the international community.

At the meeting, the two leaders agreed to establish a framework for economic security dialogue with the aim of strengthening the supply chains of industries for components, including semiconductors.

China had long adhered to its zero-COVID policy, with many companies forced to suspend their operations. The risk of relying on China for supply chains is great, and it makes sense for Japan, South Korea and the United States to work together to build a stable supply network.

It is of significance that Japan’s Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry has decided to ease tough restrictions on exports of semiconductor materials and other products to South Korea. This will be an opportunity to expand economic cooperation between Japan and South Korea.

Before Yoon left for Japan, North Korea launched an ICBM-class missile that fell into the Sea of Japan. The launch was clearly intended to apply pressure amid the improvement of Japan-South Korean relations and joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises.

The North Korean threat has reached a level that cannot be overlooked. It is essential for Tokyo and Seoul to be aware of the difficult current situation and for their defense authorities to make efforts to communicate with each other. With the involvement of Washington, systems for intelligence gathering and warning and surveillance should be strengthened.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 17, 2023)