Japan, South Korea should Establish Trend of Improved Bilateral Relations

It is a welcome development that the trend toward improved relations being promoted by the leaders of Japan and South Korea has been spreading to the public level. It is important to build stable relations between neighbors who share common values.

In a joint survey by The Yomiuri Shimbun and South Korean newspaper Hankook Ilbo, 45% of Japanese respondents and 43% of South Korean respondents said that the current state of Japan-South Korea relations is “good.” This is a significant increase of more than 20 percentage points in both figures compared to the previous survey conducted immediately after South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol took office in May last year.

There is no doubt that Yoon’s emphasis on universal values such as freedom and the rule of law and his efforts to deepen a relationship of trust with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida have had an impact on the large increase in both figures. Yoon and Kishida have resumed reciprocal visits between the leaders of the two nations for the first time in 12 years, holding a total of three meetings between March and May this year.

The issue of the lawsuit regarding the former wartime requisitioned workers from the Korean Peninsula, which has been the biggest pending issue in Japan-Korea relations, is now moving toward a resolution, as the Yoon administration has proposed a solution that does not require the Japan side to pay compensation. It can be said that the situation of bilateral relations called “the worst since the end of WWII” has passed.

It is important to accumulate concrete results in a wide range of areas, such as the economy, culture and exchanges in the private sector, so that the trend of improvement is not interrupted.

In the latest survey, the majority of respondents in both countries — 70% in Japan and 64% in South Korea — stated that “economic cooperation should be promoted even if there is a gap over the issue of historical perception.”

As China increases its “economic coercion” to force other countries to comply with its demands by hinting at trade restrictions and other measures, there is an increasing need for Japan and South Korea to strengthen their supply chains for semiconductors and other critical products and to cooperate on economic security.

In April, for the first time in about four years, South Korea lifted its exclusion of Japan from a list of countries eligible for preferential treatment to simplify export procedures. Japan has also announced the return of South Korea to its list of preferential countries. The normalization of export controls between the two countries should be used as an opportunity to further vitalize their economic relations.

South Korean opposition parties have criticized the Yoon administration, saying that the president has made too many concessions to Japan. Relations with Japan have been used as a tool in South Korea’s political battles in the past. Kishida must respond to Yoon’s unwavering emphasis on Japan and steadily advance the relationship.

In the survey, 66% of respondents in Japan and 56% in South Korea said that Japan, the United States and South Korea should work together to counter China in the event of a contingency in the Taiwan Strait. This indicates both publics have begun to share a sense of urgency over “changing the status quo by force” by China and Russia.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile technologies are also becoming more sophisticated, and the security environment in East Asia has been deteriorating. It is hoped that Tokyo and Seoul will expand security cooperation and that such efforts will lead to stronger Japan-U.S.-South Korea collaboration and improved deterrence.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 15, 2023)