Keio University professor Nishino Junya, interviewed by Ota Narumi.
The South Korean presidential election debates focused on domestic affairs and the economy rather than diplomacy. This is probably because the public is interested in issues concerning employment and real estate. Under such circumstances, a major feature of this election was that Yoon Suk-yeol forcefully called for the improvement of Japan-South Korea relations.
In the last presidential election, all the candidates called for “reconsideration” and ”a reset” of the Japan-South Korea agreement on the comfort women issue that the previous administration had signed. The South Korean people’s feelings toward Japan are still critical but there is also the sentiment that the relationship is not good at the moment. Yoon may have kept that situation in mind. Yoon probably thought that improvement in relations with Japan was necessary from the standpoint of emphasizing the U.S.-ROK alliance.
Yoon is calling for a comprehensive solution to various issues related to Japan and South Korea, modeled on the 1998 “Japan-South Korea Joint Declaration.” The declaration included history issues, security, and economic cooperation. Currently, the issue of Japanese export restrictions is of great interest to South Korea, but Japan is demanding that the issue of forced labor be resolved within South Korea. It seems that Yoon thinks a comprehensive solution is realistic amid different priorities and complex problems.
The election campaign further divided South Korean society, and the National Assembly is dominated by opposition parties. The future of Japan-South Korea relations will also depend on how flexibly the Japanese side can respond to such a situation.