By Sakura Murakami and Ju-min Park
TOKYO/SEOUL (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – The leaders of Japan and South Korea vowed to turn the page on years of animosity in a meeting on Thursday, putting aside their shared difficult history and saying they needed to work more closely to counter the challenges to the security of the region .
Comments by South Korea’s Yoon Suk Yeol and Japan’s Fumio Kishida at a joint meeting in Tokyo highlight how the two US allies have been brought closer by North Korea’s frequent missile fires, as well as growing concern about China’s more muscular role on the international stage .
Yoon’s visit to Japan on Thursday was the first by a South Korean president in 12 years. The urgency of the regional security situation – and the threat posed by North Korea – were underlined in the hours leading up to Yoon’s arrival, when the North launched a long-range ballistic missile that landed in the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan.
The two countries also agreed to abandon a nearly four-year trade dispute over high-tech materials used for chips, an issue that has dogged their relationship even as semiconductors’ political importance and the security of their supply have increased.
“Today’s meeting with Prime Minister Kishida has special significance in letting the citizens of our two countries know that South Korea-Japan relations, which have been going through difficult times due to various outstanding issues, are at a new starting point,” Yoon said in comments as they faced each other at a table.
“As seen in North Korea’s long-range ballistic missile launch before my departure for Tokyo this morning, North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threats pose a major threat not only to East Asia, but also for international peace and stability”.
Kishida said he was happy that the opportunity to have intercourse came on a warm spring day.
The two said they would resume their previously interrupted “shuttle diplomacy” of regular visits between leaders.
Japan will remove limits on its exports to South Korea of critical display materials and smartphone chips, while Seoul will withdraw a World Trade Organization (WTO) complaint against Tokyo, officials from both sides said.
Tokyo imposed the limits in 2019 as tensions over a decade-long row with Seoul deepened. Thursday’s announcement will likely be seen as a sign of a desire by Yoon and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to present a united front against rising regional tension and cooperate on supply chains. In doing so, they try to leave behind years of animosity sparked by the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula between 1910 and 1945.
Yoon said he expects to “reinvigorate” security cooperation and the two leaders are preparing to confirm the restart of a bilateral security dialogue that has been on hold since 2018, according to Japan’s NHK broadcaster.
The attempt to forge ties has prompted a rebuke from China, whose foreign ministry has said it is against the attempt by some countries to form exclusive circles.
SKEPTICISM AT HOME
Behind the scenes, Japanese officials have been cautious about improving relations.
Yoon also faces skepticism at home. In a Gallup Korea poll released on Friday, 64% of respondents said there was no need to rush to improve ties with Japan if there was no change in their attitude, and 85% said they would believe that the current Japanese government does not apologize for Japan’s colonial history.
However, the economic ties are strong. The two were each other’s fourth-largest export market in 2021, according to the IMF. Japanese exports to South Korea totaled $52 billion, while South Korean exports totaled $30 billion, the data showed.
In a new reminder of longstanding tensions, two South Korean victims of wartime forced labor have filed a lawsuit, seeking compensation from Japanese firm Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, their representatives said on Thursday.
Relations between the two countries, which have been strained over the wartime labor issue and disputed islands, and Korean girls and women forced to work in Japanese wartime brothels, made progress last week when Seoul announced a plan for its companies to compensate former forced labourers. The victims who filed the lawsuit reject that plan.
Japan’s largest business lobby, Keidanren, and its South Korean counterpart, the Federation of Korean Industries, have agreed to launch foundations aimed at “future-oriented” bilateral relations, said it.
Park Hong-keun, group leader of South Korea’s main opposition Democratic Party, said Yoon’s visit should not stop at “his trip down memory lane” and asked Yoon to get a genuine apology and resolution from Japan on the issues of the forced labor during his journey.
Japan said “the strategic challenge posed by China is the greatest Japan has ever faced” in a defense strategy document released in December. Tokyo fears that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has set a precedent that will embolden China to attack self-governing Taiwan.
China’s coast guards entered waters around the disputed islets of the East China Sea on Wednesday to counter what it called the incursion of Japanese vessels into Chinese territorial waters.
(Reporting by Sakura Murakami and Kaori Kaneko in Tokyo, Josh Smith, Ju-min Park and Soo-hyang Choi in Seoul; Additional reporting by Laurie Chen in Beijing Editing by David Dolan, Gerry Doyle and Sharon Singleton)