Tokyo, April 19 (Jiji Press)–The Japanese government is seeking to gauge how serious incoming South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol is about improving ties between the East Asian neighbors, including through the president-elect’s plan to send a delegation to Japan for policy discussions.
A senior official of Japan’s Foreign Ministry welcomed Yoon’s plan as “a step forward,” and Tokyo is expected to consider the possibility of setting up a meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and members of the South Korean mission.
Yoon is believed to be aiming to mend fences with Japan through discussions, at a time when bilateral ties have been chilled by issues such as that over Koreans who were requisitioned to work in Japan during World War II.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said at a press conference Monday that Tokyo will “seize this opportunity to communicate well with the new South Korean administration.”
Returning to a “healthy Japan-South Korea relationship” is necessary for responding to regional instability, the top government spokesman said, adding that he has “high hopes on incoming President Yoon’s leadership.”
It is the second delegation formed by Yoon, following the first mission that visited the United States earlier this month.
Members of the delegation to Japan will include “heavyweights,” such as the deputy head of the South Korean National Assembly and a former senior South Korean Foreign Ministry official, both well versed in relations with Japan, according to diplomatic sources. They will visit Japan from Sunday to April 28.
The delegation is hoping to meet with Kishida and will possibly propose that the Japanese leader come as a guest to Yoon’s inauguration ceremony on May 10.
Yoon campaigned for “forward-looking” Japan-South Korea ties in the presidential election. He also said in a recent interview with The Washington Post that bringing up the issue of Japan’s past colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula would hurt Tokyo-Seoul ties, suggesting that he places great value on cooperation among South Korea, Japan and the United States.
“I want to praise his basic stance,” a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official said.
However, it remains unclear whether Yoon can make decisions over the wartime labor issue and the issue of Korean comfort women, who served as prostitutes for Japanese troops, including those forced to do so against their will, before and during World War II, given that his conservative bloc will be in the minority in the National Assembly.
There have also been cases in which conservative administrations in Seoul did not get along with Tokyo.
A Japanese government source pointed out that Yoon will unlikely be able to act freely on ties with Japan as unified regional elections are scheduled for June 1 in South Korea.
Japan takes the position that the wartime labor issue was resolved by the 1965 bilateral agreement on property and claims, and argues that, as with the comfort women issue, the ball is in South Korea’s court.
“We can’t leave the issues as they are,” Matsuno said at the press conference Monday, seeking improved responses from Seoul. “Abiding by promises made between governments is fundamental to relations between nations,” he also said.
On a possible meeting between Yoon’s delegation and Kishida, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official suggested that Tokyo must check if the Yoon side is determined to take action over the wartime issues.