• Asia-Pacific

Japan PM Keeps to Declaration With South Korea

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks to reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office on Monday evening about the South Korean announcement on the issue of former wartime requisitioned workers.

The Japan and South Korean governments have managed to find a mutually acceptable point of compromise regarding the issue of former wartime requisitioned workers.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said Monday, “On this occasion, the Japanese government confirms that it is maintaining the position of past cabinets regarding historical recognition, including the 1998 Japan-South Korea Joint Declaration.”

In the 1998 declaration, then Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi expressed his “deep remorse and heartfelt apology” for Japanese colonial rule. The South Korean government has attached importance to this as a confirmation of historical recognition.

An hour before Hayashi’s statement, South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin, who announced the resolution plan in Seoul, said: “If you liken it to water in a glass, [the South Korean government’s plan] has filled more than half of the glass. I hope that Japan’s ‘sincere measures’ will fill it further.”

Park had in mind a reaffirmation of historical recognition, including an “apology,” and some involvement by the defendant companies in lawsuits over former wartime requisitioned workers. The two foreign ministers spoke over the phone on Sunday, and Monday’s announcement was carefully coordinated beforehand.

Like Hayashi, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced Monday evening that he would adhere to the Joint Declaration. The Japan Business Federation (Keidanren), whose members include the defendant companies in the lawsuits over former requisitioned workers, issued a welcoming comment, saying, “We will work positively to strengthen economic exchange between Japan and South Korea.”

It is considering launching future-oriented scholarships, among other programs.

A senior Japanese government official said, “To the extent that it does not undermine Japan’s position that the compensation issue has been completely resolved, we have thought it out so that from the Korean side, it appears to be a package response” to their solution.

The Japanese government took great care in its response to the plan to avoid measures that might suggest Japanese involvement in the reparations issue and what might be perceived as a new apology. The idea of reading out the past joint declaration, which contains words of apology and remorse, had been considered within the government. However, Kishida reiterated to those around him that he could not say anything more than that he would maintain the government’s position to date.

In 2015, when he was foreign minister, Kishida confirmed that the comfort women issue was “resolved finally and irreversibly” in the agreement between the Japanese and South Korean governments. However, the agreement was effectively scrapped by the Moon Jae-in administration. With the prime minister well aware of the need to improve relations but remaining cautious, the government cannot make concessions.

There is majority support within the government and the Liberal Democratic Party for the solution, but there are also lingering concerns about a rehash, as with the comfort women agreement.

Nevertheless, a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official stressed, “It’s in Japan’s national interest to demonstrate a committed attitude toward deepening relations with the Yoon Suk-yeol administration, which is capable of dialogue.”

Tokyo and Seoul share values, and South Korea is a valuable partner for Japan, which is dealing with China, Russia and North Korea.

“Japan can’t afford to be hostile even to South Korea. Improving relations is also a strategic decision,” a Cabinet members said.