Yoon: Seoul Will Not Exploit Issues with Japan for Political Purposes

Reuters file photo
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol

SEOUL — South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said Seoul will not exploit issues between South Korea and Japan for political purposes in an exclusive interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun on Tuesday.

“There are many political forces that try to use Korea-Japan ties in domestic politics, but diplomatic relations must be sustained and consistent,” Yoon said.

Past South Korean leaders have adopted a hard line on the Seoul-Tokyo relationship — a sensitive issue among the South Korean public — and have used such a stance to buoy their administrations.

Yoon’s comments suggest he is trying to restore trust with Japan by drawing a clear line between his administration and previous administrations.

Past complications include a visit by then-South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to the Takeshima islands in Shimane Prefecture in August 2012 in the last days of his administration. He was the first South Korean leader to land on the islets, which are at the center of a territorial row between Japan and South Korea.

Also, when Park Geun-hye occupied the Blue House, she pressed Japan to resolve an issue involving former “comfort women,” which worsened Japan-South Korea relations. And Yoon’s predecessor Moon Jae-in effectively scrapped the 2015 Japan-South Korea agreement on comfort women. He also left unaddressed a long-standing issue concerning lawsuits linked to wartime requisitioned workers from the Korean Peninsula.

The Yoon administration has come under intense fire in South Korea over a proposed solution to the issue of former requisitioned workers.

On Monday, the left-wing Democratic Party of Korea, the largest opposition party, criticized the administration over its proposal, calling it a “national disgrace” and “humiliating diplomacy” in a meeting of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee.

A plaintiff who attended the meeting said, “I will not accept [money from a South Korean government foundation] even if I starve to death.” Members of the ruling People Power Party refused to attend the meeting.

Meanwhile, preparations have kicked off in South Korea for a general election in April next year.

The opposition is probably exploiting the issue with Japan to weaken Yoon’s political clout. The South Korean president might have been referring to such moves when he stressed in the interview that linking diplomatic issues to domestic politics would harm national interests.

The results of a survey by the South Korean TV station KBS released Friday showed that 53.1% of respondents did not support the government’s proposal, and 39.8% were in favor of it.

Yoon’s approval rating stood at 34%, down 2 percentage points from the previous week, in a South Korean Gallup poll released Friday.

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