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South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol Visits Japan to Strengthen Relations

On Thursday, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol arrived in Tokyo for a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, signaling a significant warming of long-strained relations between the two countries. It is the first visit by a South Korean leader to Japan in 12 years. The urgency of the regional security situation, highlighted by North Korea’s launch of a long-range ballistic missile that landed in the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan shortly before Yoon’s arrival, has pushed the two countries closer together.[0]

Yoon and Kishida acknowledge that the deteriorating geopolitical situation necessitates Japan and South Korea to collaborate more closely. The two countries have embraced trilateral security cooperation with the United States to an unprecedented degree, and are now aiming to stabilize their relationship with each other.[1] Yoon has described Tokyo as a “partner that shares universal values with us”, and called for trilateral cooperation between South Korea, Japan, and the US “to overcome the serious nuclear threats posed by North Korea”.

Yoon and Kishida discussed a number of issues, including South Korean court rulings that ordered two Japanese firms to pay reparations to 15 people forced to work in their factories during World War II, Chinese military activity and disruption to the supply chain, and North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme.[2] Yoon’s government offered Japan concessions on the reparations issue, proposing to compensate the laborers through a Korean foundation.[3]

However, there is still a lot of opposition to Yoon’s proposal in South Korea. A Gallup opinion poll showed that nearly 60 percent of South Koreans are opposed to it, and anti-government protests have erupted in which people decried the government’s plan as “foolish” and “humiliating”.[4] The poll also showed that 57% of Japanese supported the compensation scheme.[5]

Kishida and Yoon held a joint news conference after the summit, and will be followed by a dinner.[6] Kishida plans to take Yoon to some of the restaurants in Tokyo's Ginza district to enjoy “omurice”, a fried rice dish topped with an omelette, which is a favourite of the South Korean president.[7]

Yoon and Kishida have pledged to cooperate on security challenges and to resume reciprocal visits and normalize intelligence sharing.[8]

0. “South Korea and Japan hail spring thaw amid missiles and weight of history” CNA, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/asia/south-korea-japan-relations-history-thaw-missiles-3351701

1. “Yoon’s Unilateral Statesmanship Will Fail Without Reciprocation From Japan” Council on Foreign Relations, 14 Mar. 2023, https://www.cfr.org/blog/yoons-unilateral-statesmanship-will-fail-without-reciprocation-japan

2. “The Japan-South Korea Thaw” The Dispatch, 10 Mar. 2023, https://thedispatch.com/article/the-japan-south-korea-thaw/

3. “South Korea and Japan host a bilateral summit for the first time in 12 years” WKAR, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.wkar.org/2023-03-16/south-korea-and-japan-host-a-bilateral-summit-for-the-first-time-in-12-years

4. “The Japan-South Korea Thaw Is Far From a Done Deal” The Diplomat, 14 Mar. 2023, https://thediplomat.com/2023/03/the-japan-south-korea-thaw-is-far-from-a-done-deal/

5. “Yoon arrives in Japan for historic talks with Kishida – and beloved omurice” The Guardian, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/mar/16/yoon-arrives-in-japan-for-historic-talks-with-kishida-and-beloved-omurice

6. “(3rd LD) Yoon arrives in Japan for summit with Kishida” Yonhap News Agency, 16 Mar. 2023, https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20230315007555315

7. “Yoon visits Japan, seeking to restore ties amid N Korea threat” Al Jazeera English, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/3/16/s-koreas-yoon-visits-japan-renew-ties-amid-n-korea-threat

8. “Japan, South Korea rebuild defense ties, with U.S. backing” Nikkei Asia, 16 Mar. 2023, https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Japan-South-Korea-rift/Japan-South-Korea-rebuild-defense-ties-with-U.S.-backing

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