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EDITORIAL | Japan-South Korea Summit Shows Relations on the Mend 

Kishida and Yoon recognized at the Japan-South Korea summit that they should work together, given the region's deteriorating security environment.



South Korea
Prime Minister Kishida shakes hands with South Korean President Yoon Seok-yeol (right) during a meeting at Seoul on May 7. (© Kyodo)

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida arrived in Seoul on Sunday, May 7, for a Japan-South Korea summit meeting with President Yoon Suk-yeol. This was Kishida's first visit to the Republic of Korea (South Korea) since taking office.

Sunday's trip followed Yoon's March visit to Japan, his first since becoming president. The resumption of shuttle diplomacy, in which leaders of the two countries exchange visits over a short period of time, offers an opportunity to demonstrate that bilateral relations are on the mend.

South Korea
Prime Minister Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol (left) at a welcome event at the presidential office in Seoul on May 7. (Pool photo/co-published)

Collaborating in a Hostile Security Environment

During the meeting, Japan and South Korea agreed to work closely together on national security, economics, and other areas. 

Both leaders recognized the deteriorating security environment in the region. They agreed that it was imperative to strengthen deterrence and response capabilities. That should come through the separate alliances of the two countries with the United States. But it should also include bilateral Japan-South Korea and trilateral Japan-US-South Korea security cooperation.

Mr Yun had already confirmed the importance of cooperation between the United States, Japan, and South Korea. It was written into his joint statement with President Joe Biden issued at the time of the April summit meeting that took place during his recent visit to Washington. 

Through this serial summit diplomacy, all three nations have demonstrated their commitment to strengthening security cooperation vis-à-vis the surrounding despotic regimes in China, North Korea, and Russia.

Such cooperation is certainly appropriate, as it will contribute to enhancing deterrence. 

South Korea
PM Kishida and his wife (left) and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol attend a welcoming event in Seoul. May 7, 2023. (© Pool photo/co-owned)

Moving Forward and Standing Still

President Yoon also expressed his support for Japan's position on the issue of abductions by North Korea

Promoting cooperation between Japan and South Korea concerning security and human rights, including the abductions, is critical. 


Meanwhile, the depth of the gulf between Japan and South Korea on other issues was once again exposed. For example, no concrete proposal was offered to resolve the incident in which a South Korean naval vessel carried out a radar lock-on incident against a Self-Defense Forces aircraft. 

During the talks, Prime Minister Kishida made reference to the 1998 Japan-South Korea Joint Declaration, in which the Japanese government expressed "deep remorse and heartfelt apology" over the Japanese occupation of the Korean Peninsula. 

He also emphasized to President Yoon that his government would continue to maintain the positions of previous Cabinets regarding historical perceptions. Didn't this amount to another apology? 

Regressing with Apologies at Every Summit

It's questionable that the Japanese side should have to repeat its apology at every summit meeting. Yoon's stance might be that he wants to prioritize security issues over history, but he has not backed it with sufficient substance.

Prime Minister Kishida also commented on the South Korean government's proposed solution to the wartime labor issue.  He said, "My heart aches for the many people who suffered so much pain and sorrow under the harsh conditions prevailing at that time."

Concerning the wartime labor issue, to begin with there is no valid reason why Japan should be asked to apologize or pay compensation. The situation was no different from the labor mobilization that occurred in many countries during World War II. Moreover, the workers in question were paid wages.

Prime Minister Kishida's statement creates the impression that Japan is the party at fault in the controversy. Actually, however, Japan itself is the victim of false accusations that run counter to the historical facts. It is an extremely unfortunate and erroneous statement that turns an objective situation upside down.

Building a future-oriented Japan-Korea relationship is certainly desirable. But it is clear that the path there will be steep.



(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun