Japan, South Korea summit must overcome history to renew ties

Japan, South Korea summit must overcome history to renew ties

TOKYO (AP) — The leaders of South Korea and Japan See you in Tokyo this week, hoping to resume regular visits after a gap of more than a decade and overcome grievances dating back more than 100 years. Asia’s two major economies and US allies have long hoped to cooperate over shared security concerns about China and North Korea, but previous rounds of diplomacy have foundered on unresolved issues from Japan’s 35-year occupation of the Korean peninsula.

There is Seoul Tokyo has offered concessions to South Korea’s demand for compensation Wartime forced labor, but it remains to be seen whether the South Korean people will accept reunification.

The AP explains what separates the two neighbors, what they’ll talk about, and why it matters to the region.

What are the problems?

Japan effectively colonized the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945, in a regime that imposed Japanese names and language on Koreans and Many are engaged in forced labor or forced prostitution Military brothels before and during World War II. Japan paid $800 million in reparations to South Korea’s military-run government in 1965, but the money was never distributed to the victims. A quasi-governmental fund offered compensation to former “comfort women” when the government apologized in 1995, but many South Koreans believe the Japanese government should take more direct responsibility for the occupation.

The two sides also have a long-standing territorial dispute over a group of islands controlled by South Korea and claimed by Japan.

Seoul and Tokyo have tried to forge better relations before. In 2004, the leaders began regular visits, but ended in 2012 when South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited the disputed islands. Tensions have risen over the past 10 years as conservative Japanese governments have moved to rearm the country in an effort to whitewash Japan’s wartime atrocities, and in 2018 South Korea’s Supreme Court ordered Japan’s Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to compensate victims of forced labor. In 2019, Japan, in apparent retaliation, imposed export controls on chemicals used to make semiconductors and displays used in smartphones and other high-tech devices.

What is expected at the summit?

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will hold a summit and have dinner together during Yoon’s March 16-17 state visit. Although the leaders have met in multilateral settings, including on the sidelines of a UN meeting in New York in September, this is the first formal bilateral summit since a meeting in Seoul in 2015.

Kishida is expected to reaffirm Japan’s past expressions of regret for its wartime actions.

Both sides have signaled hope that the summit will resume regular bilateral visits, although Kishida has yet to announce plans to visit South Korea. Tokyo is also considering inviting Yun to return to Japan as an observer at the Group of Seven summit hosted by Kishida in Hiroshima in May.

A major business mission with Yun is expected to meet with their Japanese counterpart. Masakazu Tokura, chair of the Japan Business Federation, said the two sides were considering establishing a separate, private fund to promote bilateral economy, security, culture and other important areas of cooperation.

What is at stake for the region?

Improved relations between South Korea and Japan could pave the way for the two US allies to cooperate more closely on shared security concerns regarding China and North Korea.

Washington is keen to get its allies on the same page, and appears to have worked intensively to bring about the summit. U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel said his country and its two allies have held about 40 trilateral meetings, and he believes cooperation in the process has helped build trust. While Japan is increasingly strengthening defense ties with the United Kingdom, Australia, India and the Philippines, the challenges in Japan-South Korea relations are obvious, and their close relationship “in the larger context of our strategic alignment … is a very big issue.”

South Korean officials have denied a direct push by the Biden administration to resolve the historic dispute with Tokyo, but the plan is apparently part of an effort to strengthen South Korea. Alliance to counter North Koreawhich is expanding nuclear-capable missiles and threatening preemptive nuclear strikes.

While pushing for an expansion of joint US-South Korean military exercises, the Yun government has sought strong assurances from Washington to quickly and decisively use its nuclear weapons to protect its allies from North Korea.

Seoul and Tokyo last week also announced plans to discuss restoring the countries’ trade ties, which could relieve pressure on global high-tech supply chains. South Korean officials say stronger economic cooperation with Tokyo has become more important in the face of industrial supply chain disruptions and other global challenges.

“The need to strengthen South Korea-Japan cooperation has never been greater in an era of complex crises, uncertainty in global geopolitics, North Korea’s continued nuclear and missile testing activities and disruptions to industrial supply chains,” South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Cho Hyun-dong said last week.

How are Japan and South Korea addressing history?

Experts say the two countries need to find a place in history if this round of diplomacy is to have lasting results.

Choi Yoon-mi, an analyst at South Korea’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said the Kishida-Yoon summit will not change South Korean public opinion if it is about security and economic issues. “There must be some form of apology and expression of self-reflection by Japan, particularly by the Japanese government and the defendant companies,” he said.

Seoul made an important concession ahead of the summit, announcing plans Use own funds to pay compensation From the 2018 court order. South Korea will pay compensation to the plaintiffs through an existing state-run foundation that collects money from South Korean companies that benefited from the 1965 treaty, which includes $800 million in economic aid and loans from Tokyo to Seoul. It is a major relief for Tokyo, which fears that further South Korean court orders could impose massive compensation claims on hundreds more Japanese companies that used forced wartime labor.

The plan has faced fierce opposition from surviving forced labor victims, their supporters and opposition politicians, who have demanded compensation directly from Japanese companies and a renewed apology from Tokyo. Only three of the 15 forced labor victims who won compensation in 2018 are still alive, and all three have refused to accept the South Korean payment in written notes submitted to the foundation, their lawyer Lim Jae-sung said.

South Korean law allows for third-party reimbursement, and officials said they would do their best to convince victims to accept payment.

South Korean officials said they did not expect Nippon Steel or Mitsubishi to immediately contribute to a fund for victims of forced labor, and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said it was up to Japanese companies to decide whether to voluntarily contribute to the fund.

The future of the deal may also depend on whether Kishidar’s government can win over South Korean public opinion. South Korean officials expressed hope that Yun would bring back a “heartfelt response” from Tokyo as bilateral relations improved.

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