Eliding past, Seoul and Tokyo push for trilateral cooperation with US

Posted on : 2023-05-08 17:20 KST Modified on : 2023-05-08 17:20 KST
The recent summit between the leaders of Japan and South Korea did not include an official apology for war crimes by Japan during its colonial rule over Korea
President Yoon Suk-yeol of South Korea (right) shakes hands with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan during the latter’s visit to Seoul on May 7 for a summit. (presidential office pool photo)
President Yoon Suk-yeol of South Korea (right) shakes hands with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan during the latter’s visit to Seoul on May 7 for a summit. (presidential office pool photo)

The leaders of South Korea and Japan announced plans to strengthen security cooperation between the US, Japan and South Korea after their summit on Sunday, hinting at the possibility of Japan’s participation in the Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG) created by Seoul and Washington.

Japan once again made no official apology or reflection on past historical issues, including the issue of compensation for victims of Japan’s colonial-era forced labor, a topic many Koreans have been watching with keen interest. The prime minister did make a personal comment, however, stating that his “heart aches” when he thinks of the suffering people went through at the time.

At a joint press conference at 3:30 pm on Sunday after a 110-minute summit at the Yongsan presidential office, President Yoon Suk-yeol of South Korea and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan announced, “South Korea and Japan, which share universal values, must work closely together in responding to security, economic, and global agendas.”

With this meeting taking place only 52 days after their summit in Tokyo on March 16, the two leaders hailed the significance of the meeting as having fully restored “shuttle diplomacy” between their countries after a 12-year hiatus.

The two leaders reiterated their commitment to “values diplomacy” and explained the importance and the logic behind trilateral security cooperation between South Korea, the US and Japan.

When asked at the press conference whether the Washington Declaration, which contains measures to strengthen extended deterrence, could be expanded to include cooperation between South Korea, the US and Japan, Yoon stated that the document “doesn’t rule out Japan’s participation” in the scheme.

“It’s a matter where we’re first getting it off the ground, and then Japan would be able to cooperate at any time once the preparations are made in terms of Japan’s relations with the US,” the South Korean president said.

Yoon also seemed eager to use the upcoming Group of Seven summit in Hiroshima, Japan, starting on May 19, as a launchpad for continued discussions on security cooperation through trilateral meetings among South Korea, the US and Japan.

“We are key US allies in Northeast Asia,” Kishida said, “and as North Korea continues with its provocative acts, and its attempts to change the status quo through force are becoming more and more clear, we agreed on the importance of strengthening our deterrence and response capabilities through the Japan-US alliance, the South Korea-US alliance, the South Korea-Japan alliance, and South Korea-US-Japan security cooperation.”

On the issue of the compensation for victims of forced mobilization during the Japanese occupation, Kishida stated his “heart aches to think of the difficulty and sad experiences” of many at the time.

He emphasized that the sentiments came from “his own honest feelings,” and reiterated that the Japanese government’s stance is in line with previous Cabinet positions on historical awareness as a whole, including sentiments that were expressed in the joint declaration adopted by Japan and South Korea in 2008.

Asked about South Korea’s position on the issue of compensation for victims of forced labor, Yoon said, “Our government’s position on the forced mobilization solution remains unchanged,” adding that the solution announced by his administration in March “is a compromise that simultaneously satisfies the Treaty on Basic Relations Between Japan and the Republic of Korea and the 2018 Supreme Court ruling. It is also the only solution with legal finality.”

The two leaders also agreed to allow the visit of South Korean inspectors to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant before the release of contaminated water stored there. Seoul said it will begin consultations next week and plans to dispatch the team within the month.

The issue of importing seafood from Fukushima was not on the agenda. The two leaders also agreed to visit and pay their respects at the memorial to Korean atomic bomb victims at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park on the sidelines of the upcoming G7 summit.

The two leaders said they will strengthen cooperation to build a semiconductor supply chain and cooperate on joint research and development in advanced science and technology fields such as space, quantum, artificial intelligence, digital bio, and future materials.

By Kim Mi-na, staff reporter; Bae Ji-hyun, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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