Japan Prime Minister Hopes for Swift Resolution to Wartime Workers Issue

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks at a press conference in Washington on Saturday.

WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Saturday expressed his hope that South Korea will seek an early resolution of the issue of former wartime requisitioned workers.

“The diplomatic authorities [of Japan and South Korea] and others are working to resolve the issue. I strongly hope these efforts will continue,” Kishida said at a press conference in Washington with reporters from around the world, referring to the matter that has been a major concern for both countries.

The South Korean government on Thursday proposed that a government-affiliated foundation shoulder the cost of compensation for former requisitioned workers from the Korean Peninsula, on behalf of relevant Japanese firms.

Kishida stopped short of commenting on the proposal but said, “I want to continue to communicate closely with the South Korean government in a bid to restore healthy Japan-South Korea relations and further develop them.”

In a speech he gave prior to the press conference, Kishida also said, “We will resolve a pending issue as quickly as possible, return the relationship to a healthy shape and further develop it.”

The administration of South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, which prioritizes cooperation with the United States, has made it clear that it is in step with Japan, through such moves as announcing its own Indo-Pacific strategy at the end of last year.

The previous Moon Jae-in administration took a notably conciliatory stance toward North Korea. Both Tokyo and Washington believe that Japan-U.S.-South Korea cooperation will be possible with the Yoon administration; Kishida has told some of his aides that he could “talk with Yoon.”

The Japanese and South Korean governments have begun discussions on immediately sharing information from radar that detects and tracks North Korean missiles. If adopted, the system would function via the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, garnering attention as a centerpiece of new Japan-U.S.-South Korea cooperation.

Kishida is considering inviting Yoon to the Group of Seven summit meeting in Hiroshima in May, although there are strong opinions on the Japanese side that this will depend on how the wartime worker issue develops. If realized, it will be an opportunity to demonstrate the improvement of Japan-South Korea relations and Japan-U.S.-South Korea cooperation. Arrangements will likely be made also with the United States.