A South Korean delegation of parliamentarians and experts for President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol will visit Japan on April 24. It is a de facto transition team and this will be the first time for such a delegation to visit Japan before the inauguration of the president.
The move should be welcomed as it is a step forward to normalize the Japan-South Korea relationship, which deteriorated to the “worst level in the postwar era” under the government of incumbent Moon Jae-in. Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno Hirokazu noted: “We will seize the delegation’s visit as an opportunity to return our ties with Seoul to a sound state through close communications with the new government.”
Yoon sent a similar delegation to the United States in April. Japan will become the second country to which he will send a delegation. The move seems to signify a complete shift from the Moon government’s pro-North Korea and China policy and demonstrate that he will attach importance to trilateral security cooperation with Japan and the U.S.
Under the Moon administration, cooperation between Japan, the U.S. and South Korea failed to function. North Korea repeatedly launched various missiles, including a new tactical guided missile, and there are signs it is planning its seventh nuclear test. Moon was weak-kneed toward China, too, as he put off the additional deployment of a terminal high altitude area defense missile (THAAD). Will Yoon be able to act resolutely against China and North Korea?
To maintain peace and stability in East Asia, South Korea must mend its ties with both the U.S. and Japan. What will become particularly important to the Japan-South Korea relationship is to “honor promises that the two nations made” — promises the ROK unilaterally scrapped.
On the comfort women issue, South Korea must fully implement the “final and irreversible resolution” confirmed at a meeting of the two foreign ministers seven years ago. On the issues concerning requisitioned workers and war compensation, it must abide by the Japan-South Korea basic agreement that stipulate these are “settled completely and finally.”
In his recent interview with a U.S. outlet, Yoon noted that he “will not make the country’s ties with Japan into a political tool.” In a teleconference that he held with Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio soon after winning the presidential race, he promised to “build a future-oriented relationship with Japan.”
His words should be praised. But he must act on them; otherwise, he won’t be trusted. In the past, there were several administrations that veered to an anti-Japanese policy [after coming into office]. Former President Lee Myung-bak is a good example. He visited Takeshima Island. If Yoon is serious about improving his country’s ties with Japan, he should demonstrate how to address the comfort women issue and lawsuits involving requisitioned workers in a concrete fashion.
In order for the the delegation’s visit to be more than a mere get-acquainted session, Yoon must demonstrate leadership.