South Korean president hails 'new chapter' in relations with Japan

South Korean president hails “new chapter” in relations with Japan


South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on Wednesday hailed in an interview with several media outlets including AFP the growing cooperation with Japan on issues ranging from North Korea to semiconductors, saying that It was part of a historic “new chapter” for both countries. 

Mr. Yoon will travel to Tokyo on Thursday, his first visit since taking office in 2022.

The two-day visit follows his controversial decision to try to settle once and for all a historic dispute related to South Koreans who were victims of forced labor during the Japanese occupation (1910-1945).

The plan of Mr. Yoon plans to compensate the victims without the direct financial participation of Tokyo, which angered some of them.

The latter felt that this did not meet their demand for a full apology and direct compensation from the Japanese companies involved.

But Mr. Yoon said he was convinced that his new plan to victim compensation would work. “The Japanese government will join us in opening a new chapter in Korea-Japan relations,” he said in the written interview.

“Japan expressed deep remorse and sincere apologies for its colonial past,” he added.

The Korean Peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule for 35 years, during which time around 780,000 Koreans were reduced to forced labor, according to data from Seoul. Tens of thousands of women were forced into prostitution in Japanese military brothels.

Mr. Yoon intends to end the historic dispute with a view to strengthening ties with Tokyo – a key regional ally of Washington, Seoul's security partner – in the face of growing threats from North Korea.

< p>'Working together'

In 2022, the North called its status as a nuclear power “irreversible” and recently called for an “exponential” increase in the production of weapons, including including tactical nuclear weapons.

South Korea “will never recognize North Korea as a nuclear state under any circumstances,” Yoon insisted.

He further referred to reports of people dying of starvation in North Korea – under a strict self-imposed blockade since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

“The regime North Korea could easily solve its food shortage problems if it injected the money it spends on nuclear and missile development into improving the living conditions of its people,” he said. /p>

Both Seoul and Tokyo are increasing their defense spending and holding joint military exercises respectively, which Yoon said is essential for regional and global stability.

“Korea and Japan increasingly need to cooperate in this time of polycrisis where the nuclear and missile threats from North Korea are intensifying,” Yoon said.

“We cannot afford to waste time by neglecting the tense relations between Korea and Japan. I believe that we must end the vicious circle of mutual hostility and work together to pursue the common interests of our two countries.”

Trade restrictions

However, his moves to get closer to Japan have been heavily criticized by South Korean activists, who have called them “insulting” to victims of forced labor, and contrary to some court rulings.

A landmark judgment in 2018 – among other South Korean verdicts – ordered companies including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to pay compensation to Korean victims, a decision that sent Seoul-Tokyo relations to an all-time low. level for years.

The following year, Japan imposed export controls on key industrial materials needed by the South Korean chip industry and removed the country from its list of “preferred trading nations”. Seoul has filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization.

The two countries now appear to be working to lift reciprocal trade restrictions.

In early March, South Korea said it was suspending its complaint to the WTO over export restrictions on certain Japanese products.

“Korea and Japan are key nations in global supply chains such as semiconductor production,” Yoon noted.

“Stronger economic cooperation between Korea and Japan will likely go a long way in boosting global supply chains.”