Fumio Kishida, in Seoul, Agrees with Yoon Suk Yeol to Enhance Security Against North Korea

Pool via REUTERS
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during their meeting at the presidential office in Seoul on May 7, 2023.

SEOUL — Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol agreed to strengthen cooperation on Sunday during the first visit by a Japanese leader to South Korea in over five years.

The two leaders confirmed that Tokyo and Seoul will enhance the establishment of a supply chain for semiconductors by companies from both countries. They also agreed that South Korea will send a delegation of experts to inspect the treated water that is expected to be released from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant later this year.

Upon assuming office in May 2022, Yoon made it a priority to rebuild Japan-South Korea relations, which had deteriorated under the administration of left-leaning predecessor Moon Jae-in. Tokyo-Seoul ties were even described as the worst they have been since World War II.

“The improvement of the bilateral relations will be of great benefit to the people of both countries,” Yoon said at a press conference after the summit.

Kishida, who has also acknowledged the need to improve bilateral relations, arrived in Seoul earlier in the day for the two-day visit.

During the press conference, Kishida reiterated Japan’s position on history issues with South Korea, referring to his summit in March when he hosted Yoon in Tokyo, saying, “This stance will remain unchanged in the future.”

In March, the prime minister had said, “Japan confirms that it upholds in its entirety the position of the previous cabinets on history,” which includes remorse and apology for Japan’s past colonial rule.

On Sunday, he and Yoon agreed on enhancing economic security and measures against North Korea’s nuclear and missile issues.

The last time a Japanese prime minister had visited South Korea was in February 2018 when late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

Among the reasons ties had worsened were the lawsuits related to former requisitioned workers from the Korean Peninsula in which South Korea’s Supreme Court upheld orders for Japanese firms to compensate the plaintiffs.

“I feel deeply heartbroken that so many people suffered under the harsh environment at that time,” Kishida said.

Tokyo has maintained the stance that all such issues have been “settled completely and finally” under the 1965 Agreement on the Settlement of Problems concerning Property and Claims and on Economic Cooperation between the two countries.

In March, Seoul announced the solution in which a South Korean government-affiliated foundation will pay the plaintiffs amounts equivalent to the court-ordered compensation, moving the long-standing thorn in the side of bilateral ties toward some form of resolution.

In the same month, Yoon visited Japan, and the two governments confirmed the resumption of reciprocal visits by their leaders.

In South Korea, however, a view has taken hold among conservatives and leftists alike that Seoul has made too many concessions to Tokyo on the matter. Following the announcement of the domestic solution to the issue, Yoon’s approval rating dropped and hit 30% at the end of April.