Yoon to cement trilateral cooperation with US, Japan in flurry of summits

Posted on : 2023-03-08 17:29 KST Modified on : 2023-03-13 13:44 KST
The visits come after the South Korean government announced its plan for resolving the impasse with Japan over the compensation of Koreans once forced to labor for Japan
President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks at a Cabinet meeting at the presidential office on March 7. (presidential office pool photo)
President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks at a Cabinet meeting at the presidential office on March 7. (presidential office pool photo)

President Yoon Suk-yeol is slated to take part in a South Korea-Japan summit in Tokyo later this month, a South Korea-US summit in Washington in April, and a trilateral summit between South Korea, the US, and Japan in Hiroshima in May.

These tours come on the heels of the Yoon administration’s unveiling of its third-party repayment plan for victims of forced labor during the Japanese colonial era, a proposal that omits both an apology from the Japanese government and participation in reparations by the offending Japanese companies.

Yoon seems to be putting the criticism surrounding this diplomatic move — panned by many as “disgraceful” — behind him, and is rushing to improve South Korea-Japan relations, strengthen the South Korea-US alliance, and enhance security cooperation between South Korea, Japan, and the US.

However, there are concerns about the rapid integration of South Korea into a bloc confrontation between South Korea, US, and Japan on one side and North Korea, China, and Russia on the other in the midst of a strategic competition between the US and China.

At a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Yoon stated that the plan announced by the government on Monday was “the outcome of looking for ways to respect the victims’ positions while serving the common interests and future development of both Korea and Japan.”

“It is clear that future-oriented cooperation between South Korea and Japan will help defend freedom, peace and prosperity not only in our two countries but also around the world,” the president went on to say.

Yoon emphasized the economic benefits of improved relations between the two countries, noting that trade between South Korea and Japan accounts for 6 to 7 percent of South Korea’s total trade volume, and that foreign direct investment from Japan accounts for more than 22 percent of the total.

Japan’s NHK broadcaster reported on the same day that Yoon and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida are coordinating their summit to be held in Japan on March 16-17. The two leaders are expected to issue a joint declaration on how to develop new bilateral ties.

A senior presidential office official told Hankyoreh that when it comes to relations between South Korea and Japan, the idea is to “show that we should move forward confidently for the sake of future generations rather than cling desperately on to the past, that the two countries can work together for global prosperity, and that we can share certain goals for the sake of the two nations’ happiness and for the people.”

In April, Yoon is expected to pay a state visit to the US, where he will meet with President Joe Biden. National Security Office Director Kim Sung-han discussed the idea of a bilateral summit during a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington on Monday.

Another possibility is for Kishida to invite Yoon to attend the G7 summit, which will be held in Hiroshima in May, with the status of an observer. That would give South Korea, the US and Japan a chance to hold a trilateral summit and announce their plans to strengthen trilateral cooperation before the whole world.

After the South Korean government announced its solution for the issue of compensation for victims of forced labor during the Japanese colonial period, Biden released a statement at an unusually late hour on the evening on Sunday, saying that the realization of the new agreement between South Korea and Japan “will help us to uphold and advance our shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

The leaders of South Korea, the US and Japan previously met on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Madrid last June and on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Phnom Penh last November. In a statement adopted in Phnom Penh, the three leaders said they “will align our collective efforts in pursuit of a free and open Indo-Pacific, that is inclusive, resilient, and secure,” indicating that South Korea and Japan are on board with the US-led Indo-Pacific Strategy, which aims to contain China.

The South Korean government devised its plan for third-party repayment of the damages owed to the forced labor victims amid this move toward stronger cooperation with the US and Japan.

However, there are also concerns that Seoul is rushing headlong into a “new Cold War” alignment between South Korea, the US and Japan on one side and North Korea, China and Russia on the other.

“The US and Japan seem to be pressuring China and Russia by actively recruiting partners in the Pacific and Indian Ocean,” said Nam Ki-jeong, research manager at the Institute for Japanese Studies at Seoul National University. “But they’re playing a different game on what we might call ‘the second floor,’ pursuing dialogue with China and seeking a modus vivendi with Russia.”

“The frustrating thing for South Korea is that we’ve kicked away the ladder to the second floor here in this room with the US and Japan,” he added.

“We’ve only met with the US and Japan during the 10 months since Yoon Suk-yeol became president, but we haven’t actively pursued our own interests. We’re basically being treated as shock troops,” said Kim Joon-hyung, former director of the Korean National Diplomatic Academy.

Some experts think that cooperation between the three countries could reach the level of a military alliance.

“In the end, we’ll definitely move into the military arena in the name of cooperation with the US and Japan,” said Choi Jong-kun, a professor at Yonsei University, during an appearance on MBC radio. Choi served as vice minister of foreign affairs during the presidency of Moon Jae-in.

By Kim Mi-na, staff reporter; Shin Hyeong-cheol, staff reporter

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

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories

Most viewed articles