Doubts remain over whether Yoon will get his money out of trip to Japan

Posted on : 2023-03-15 17:07 KST Modified on : 2023-03-15 17:07 KST
Japan has remained lukewarm despite Yoon’s unilateral moves on sensitive historical issues between the two nations
President Yoon Suk-yeol of South Korea (right) shakes hands with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in November 2022. (Yonhap)
President Yoon Suk-yeol of South Korea (right) shakes hands with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in November 2022. (Yonhap)

President Yoon Suk-yeol will visit Japan for a two-day trip starting Thursday, embarking on full-scale bilateral diplomacy, including a South Korea-Japan summit and participating in the South Korea-Japan business roundtable.

The presidential office plans to discuss ways to normalize bilateral ties, including restoring “shuttle diplomacy,” through the first summit exchange between the two nations in 12 years. However, it is unclear if any progress will be made as Japan remains lukewarm even after South Korea’s proposal to resolve a ruling on compensation for victims of forced labor during the Japanese occupation.

Kim Sung-han, director of the National Security Office, said at a briefing at the presidential office in Yongsan on Tuesday that Yoon and first lady Kim Keon-hee will make a “working visit” to Japan for two days. “The visit will mark an important milestone in the improvement of bilateral relations between South Korea and Japan, which was suspended for 12 years, and which President Yoon has emphasized since taking office,” Kim said.

Exchange visits between the leaders of South Korea and Japan were halted after Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s visit to Korea in October 2011 and President Lee Myung-back’s visit to Japan in December 2011.

Yoon will arrive in Tokyo on Thursday morning at which point he will immediately meet with Korean compatriots for a luncheon. The luncheon will be followed by a summit meeting with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, a dinner, and socializing.

Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported that Yoon and Kishida will have back-to-back dinners at two long-standing restaurants in Ginza. The second dinner, at Rengatei, a restaurant founded in 1895, was chosen to reflect Yoon’s love of omelet rice, the Yomiuri Shimbun explained. A senior presidential office official also emphasized the “personalized ceremony,” stating “we understand that Japan is making various preparations as a host to honor President Yoon as much as possible.”

During the summit, the two leaders are expected to discuss ways to normalize bilateral ties, including the implementation of the issue of compensation for victims of forced labor. Additional issues on the agenda include the lifting of Japan’s export restrictions on semiconductor materials and return to the whitelist, and the normalization of the GSOMIA, standing for General Security of Military Information Agreement.

Japan imposed export restrictions on South Korea after the Supreme Court’s decision confirming forced labor victims’ right to claim compensation, and the Moon administration notified Japan of the termination of the intel-sharing GSOMIA pact, then opting to suspend its validity. An official from Seoul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told reports, “Consultations are underway between the relevant ministries of South Korea and Japan on export restrictions and GSOMIA. We hope to make progress soon.”

On Friday, the second day of his visit, Yoon will meet with lawmakers and government officials who are part of the Korea-Japan Parliamentarians’ Union and the Korea-Japan Cooperation Committee and then attend a business roundtable alongside figures from the two countries’ business communities. The roundtable is likely to be attended by a large number of businesspeople, including Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Jae-yong and SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won.

As the final event on his itinerary, Yoon will deliver a lecture to Japanese and Korean students at Keio University. First lady Kim Keon-hee will join Yoon on his trip to Japan and participate in several events, including a social call on her Japanese counterpart, Yoko Kishida.

During a dinner with the leadership of the ruling People Power Party on Monday, Yoon reconfirmed his intention to improve Korea-Japan relations, which have been frozen since the Korean Supreme Court ordered Japanese companies to pay damages to victims of forced labor during the Japanese colonial period.

“Japan is our neighbor, and someone needs to take on the burden of sorting things out,” Yoon said. “If everyone is too scared of criticism to do anything, does that serve the national interest?”

While Yoon’s presidential office is stressing “shuttle diplomacy” and other aspects of future-oriented relations with Japan and highlighting how Japan is rolling out the red carpet for Yoon, it’s uncertain how much Yoon will be able to accomplish given domestic criticism of his foreign policy as “humiliating.”

Even after Korean companies announced that they would take part in third-party repayment of the damages owed to the forced labor victims, the Japanese government has maintained an overbearing attitude, refusing to make an official apology or allow perpetrator companies to help pay the damages.

By Bae Ji-hyun, staff reporter; Seo Young-ji, staff reporter; Shin Hyeong-cheol, staff reporter

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