Yoon set to visit Tokyo in Japan-ROK milestone / Restart of reciprocal visits eyed

Courtesy of Cabinet Public Affairs Office
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, left, and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol shake hands in Phnom Penh on Nov. 13, 2022.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol will visit Tokyo on March 16 and 17 and hold a summit meeting with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno announced Thursday. It will be Yoon’s first visit to Japan as president.

The governments of Japan and South Korea are planning the resumption of reciprocal visits by their top leaders, with the plan to be confirmed at the summit, according to sources.

Mutual visits between the leaders of the two countries have not taken place since December 2011.

If the resumption of mutual visits is agreed upon, Kishida will also make arrangements for his first visit to South Korea as prime minister. It would be the first time for such visits to take place in over a decade, becoming a symbol of efforts to improve ties.

On Monday, the South Korean government announced a plan to resolve the issue of lawsuits concerning former wartime requisitioned workers from the Korean Peninsula, which was the biggest issue between the two countries.

The Japanese side expressed appreciation of the announcement, and Kishida stated the Japanese government’s stance of maintaining the position of past cabinets regarding historical recognition of Japan’s colonial rule.

Both governments seem to intend to ensure the improvement of relations by announcing the resumption of mutual visits without delay after the political settlement of the former requisitioned workers issue.

At their summit meeting, Kishida and Yoon are expected to agree on strengthening bilateral security cooperation, as well as defense ties among Japan, South Korea and the United States, in light of the situation in North Korea. Expansion of economic cooperation and personnel exchanges are also expected to be on the agenda.

Except for visits at the time of international conferences, the last time either a Japanese or South Korean leader visited the other country was President Lee Myung-bak’s visit to Japan in December 2011. But after Lee went to the Takeshima Islands in Shimane Prefecture in 2012 and rekindled the issue of so-called comfort women, relations cooled.

In 2018, the South Korean Supreme Court finalized rulings that ordered two Japanese companies to pay compensation to parties including former requisitioned workers. This move caused relations to deteriorate to the point of being called “the worst since World War II.” However, under the Yoon administration, relations are rapidly being improved.

The Japanese government is considering inviting Yoon to the summit meeting of the Group of Seven industrialized countries to be held in May in Hiroshima, and is accelerating coordination in light of improving relations.