South Korean President Yoon to meet Japanese Prime Minister Kishida


TOKYO — South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol will meet Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Thursday in Tokyo, the first such summit in 12 years as America’s two biggest allies in Asia take cautious steps toward rapprochement after years hollow in relationships.

Kishida, who took office at the end of 2021, and Yoon, elected last May, have met at international conferences and summits but this will be the first time since 2011 that a South Korean or Japanese leader has visited their native country.

The summit reflects South Korea’s new priority of overcoming historical differences and strengthening security and diplomatic cooperation with Japan and the United States as the three seek to unite against growing threats from Korea. North and China.

The meeting is also significant for the United States as President Biden underscored the role of like-minded allies in addressing security issues in the Indo-Pacific region.

This underscores the strategic overhaul of countries that share Washington’s concerns about China’s rise and Japan’s key role in anchoring new groupings in the Pacific with an eye on China. It follows a major submarine construction agreement between the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom; an agreement between Japan, the United Kingdom and Italy to develop new fighter aircraft; and a potential new security pact between the Philippines, Japan and the United States.

“To all their [China’s] neighbours, it’s just a modus operandi: Conflict. The United States has a modus operandi, with cooperation and collaboration,” Rahm Emanuel, US Ambassador to Japan, said in an interview. “What is China’s strategy in the region, other than to keep key US allies divided?”

Yoon’s visit comes less than two weeks after South Korea made a landmark decision to resolve a dispute over compensation for workers who were forced to work for Japanese companies during World War II through a local fund. South Korea’s Supreme Court had ordered the Japanese companies to pay, but they refused, so the deal represented a way out of the impasse.

Kishida then extended an official invitation for Yoon’s visit. Thursday’s summit signals the two governments are ready to thaw relations and resume regular talks, although it remains to be seen whether they can tackle the thorniest issues stemming from Japan’s colonial rule on the peninsula. Korean from 1910 to 1945.

Pyongyang looms large on Seoul’s mind amid growing public concern over whether it can trust Washington to protect it in the event of conflict on the Korean peninsula. Yoon will travel to Washington next month for a state dinner with Biden to strengthen the alliance, which marks its 70th year.

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“There is a growing need for [South] Korea and Japan must cooperate in this time of polycrisis, with escalating North Korean nuclear and missile threats and disruption of global supply chains,” Yoon said in a statement ahead of the trip. “We cannot afford to waste time by leaving the tense relationship between Korea and Japan unchecked.”

Underlining Yoon’s point, North Korea on Thursday morning fired a suspected intercontinental ballistic missile that Pyongyang is developing to hit the continental United States – in the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan.

“Peace and stability in the region are important for the region, and we need to further strengthen cooperation between allies and like-minded countries,” Kishida said after the missile launch.

But the neighbors are also dealing with the baggage of previous failed attempts to mend their politically and historically charged relations and resolve unresolved labor, territorial and trade disputes. In fact, Kishida was foreign minister when the two sides last attempted to resolve a wartime compensation dispute in 2015.

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The 2015 agreement to compensate Korean women forced into sex slavery during the Japanese occupation collapsed after failing to garner public support in South Korea.

Then in 2018, South Korea’s Supreme Court ordered two Japanese companies – Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nippon Steel – to compensate South Koreans who were forced to work for them during World War II, often under harsh conditions. brutality in factories and mines. The decisions spilled over into a commercial and diplomatic dispute.

Japan maintains that the forced labor issue was settled in 1965, when the two countries restored diplomatic relations through a treaty and Japan provided $500 million in grants and loans to South Korea. South to “completely and finally” settle claims arising from its occupation of the peninsula. . The courts also ordered the seizure of assets held by the Japanese companies in Seoul, which Tokyo called illegal.

On March 6, Seoul announced that it would use local funds to pay damages to the 15 plaintiffs who had won damages against the two Japanese companies. These complainants have mixed opinions as to whether they would accept this money. But hundreds of other potential claimants – the workers’ descendants – are seeking to file their lawsuit.

A senior South Korean official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak candidly on the sensitive topic, said the Yoon administration wanted to overturn Koreans’ perception of their relationship with Japan.

“For decades, we have morally viewed ourselves as the creditor and Japan as the debtor,” the official said. “But after the 2018 Supreme Court rulings, those roles reversed. Korea has become a liar, a debtor who changes position, and Japan a creditor who has to deal with Korea, which annoys even if Japan deems its full apology.

The administration sees the March 6 announcement as a step toward changing the narrative, the official said.

“Morally, Korea has recovered. … We make Japan think and make them follow our lead because they feel a burden to do so,” the official said. “And in turn, from the perspective of the United States and the international community, we confirm that we are open to cooperation with the global society, because we see the bigger picture.”

After their meeting on Thursday, Kishida and First Lady Yuko Kishida will host Yoon and First Lady Kim Keon Hee for dinner. On Friday, Yoon is due to meet top business leaders and students from South Korea and Japan during his two-day visit.

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