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Yoon and Kishida Resume Shuttle Diplomacy: Challenges Ahead for Lasting Amity

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida have agreed to resume the so-called shuttle diplomacy between the two countries.[0] Yoon's two-day visit to Tokyo on Thursday was the first such visit to Japan by a South Korean leader in 12 years.[1] The urgency of the regional security situation, and the threat posed by North Korea, underscored the importance of the summit.[1]

The two leaders met at a sukiyaki restaurant in Tokyo's upscale Ginza district, and then held an expanded summit at Kishida's residence.[2] Yoon is said to have found omurice — a popular omelet-and-fried-rice dish — unforgettable on a previous trip to Tokyo.[2]

The leaders agreed to resume reciprocal visits, normalize intelligence sharing, and move to clear up trade disputes.[3] They also emphasized the need to cooperate in dealing with security threats, such as North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missile test earlier that morning.[4]

The summit comes days after Yoon’s government offered Japan concessions on 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.[5]

However, the issue has been met with public outcry in both countries. A Gallup opinion poll earlier this week showed that nearly 60 percent of South Koreans are opposed to Yoon’s proposal because it does not require a new apology and reparations from Japan.[6] Meanwhile, 57 percent of Japanese supported the compensation scheme.[7]

Realizing amity in Japan-South Korea relations involves a more burdensome task for both leaders: convincing their own people, who still view their counterpart nations with great venom, and their own domestic antagonists, who have the power to make their job difficult – even possibly sabotaging the deal.[6]

For Yoon and Kishida, the sustainability of such efforts will be subject to future reversals in the absence of acts of statesmanship to build a lasting consensus capable of insulating the relationship from domestic political influence in both countries.[8]

0. “Kishida, Yoon agree to resume ‘shuttle diplomacy' | NHK WORLD-JAPAN News” NHK WORLD, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20230316_41

1. “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

2. “Kishida and Yoon bond over sukiyaki, omurice and beer in Ginza” Nikkei Asia, 16 Mar. 2023, https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Japan-South-Korea-rift/Kishida-and-Yoon-bond-over-sukiyaki-omurice-and-beer-in-Ginza

3. “Facing some common threats, Japan and South Korea leaders meet to address them” Maine Public, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.mainepublic.org/2023-03-16/facing-some-common-threats-japan-and-south-korea-leaders-meet-to-address-them

4. “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

5. “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

6. “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/

7. “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

8. “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

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