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South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida Meet to Mend Ties

On March 16th, 2023, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met in Tokyo for a carefully orchestrated summit meant to mend frayed ties between the two countries.[0] It was the first visit by a South Korean leader to Japan in 11 years, and the first bilateral trip to Japan by a South Korean leader since former President Lee Myung-bak visited Tokyo in December 2011.[1]

The gravity of the security predicament in the region and the danger North Korea presents were highlighted mere hours before Yoon's entrance when the North discharged a ballistic missile that crashed into the ocean between the Korean peninsula and Japan.[2]

The leaders had been deadlocked over the issue of compensation for Koreans forced to work for Japanese companies during World War II until this month, when South Korea unilaterally suggested a solution. Yoon's government offered Japan concessions on South Korean court rulings that ordered two Japanese firms to pay reparations to 15 people forced to work in their factories during World War II.[3]

An opinion poll conducted by Gallup last week showed that the majority (60%) of South Koreans are against Yoon's proposal, as it does not include an apology and reparations from Japan.[3] The survey revealed that 85% of South Koreans felt that the present Japanese administration was not apologetic for its colonial reign.[4]

At their summit, Yoon and Kishida agreed to resume the so-called shuttle diplomacy between the leaders of the two countries, and to cooperate on security challenges such as North Korea.[5] They pledged to resume reciprocal visits, normalize intelligence sharing and move to clear up trade disputes.[5]

Japan also agreed to lift its restrictions on exports of key industrial materials for semiconductors and displays, which had been placed on South Korea in 2019 in apparent response to the forced labor dispute.[2]

Yoon and Kishida declared that they have come to a consensus to recommence shuttle diplomacy, which consists of recurrent trips to each other's nations.[0] Despite the surface, issues that have lingered since the past, such as the contention between Koreans and Japanese companies over the Koreans who were compelled to labor during World War II, remain unresolved.[6] Until this month, the two sides had been unable to reach an agreement concerning the issue. However, South Korea then unilaterally proposed a resolution.[6]

Yoon and Kishida understand that the deteriorating geopolitical climate necessitates Japan and South Korea to collaborate more effectively.[7]

0. “(7th LD) Yoon announces ‘complete normalization' of military intel-sharing pact with Japan” Yonhap News Agency, 16 Mar. 2023, https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20230315007559315

1. “South Koreans angry over President Yoon's Japan visit” Press TV, 15 Mar. 2023, https://www.presstv.ir/Detail/2023/03/15/699932/South-Koreans-angry-over-President-Yoon-s-Japan-visit

2. “South Korea and Japan hail spring thaw amid missiles and weight of history” CNA, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/asia/south-korea-japan-relations-history-thaw-missiles-3351701

3. “The Japan-South Korea Thaw Is Far From a Done Deal” The Diplomat, 14 Mar. 2023, https://thediplomat.com/2023/03/the-japan-south-korea-thaw-is-far-from-a-done-deal/

4. “Yoon visits Japan, seeking to restore ties amid N Korea threat” Al Jazeera English, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/3/16/s-koreas-yoon-visits-japan-renew-ties-amid-n-korea-threat

5. “Facing some common threats, Japan and South Korea leaders meet to address them” Maine Public, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.mainepublic.org/2023-03-16/facing-some-common-threats-japan-and-south-korea-leaders-meet-to-address-them

6. “South Korea and Japan host a bilateral summit for the first time in 12 years” WKAR, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.wkar.org/2023-03-16/south-korea-and-japan-host-a-bilateral-summit-for-the-first-time-in-12-years

7. “Yoon’s Unilateral Statesmanship Will Fail Without Reciprocation From Japan” Council on Foreign Relations, 14 Mar. 2023, https://www.cfr.org/blog/yoons-unilateral-statesmanship-will-fail-without-reciprocation-japan

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