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Editorial: Japan, S. Korea leaders must work to improve ties amid global crises

  • May 11, 2022
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

We hope that the recent inauguration of new South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol proves to be the starting point for the restoration of long chilly Japan-South Korea relations.


Japan’s Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi was dispatched to Yoon’s inauguration, bearing an official letter from Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. President Yoon told Hayashi that he “wants to cooperate toward improving bilateral relations.”


Yoon’s administration will be conservative, meaning a strong emphasis on security. Along with the launch of the Kishida administration last fall, both countries now have a new order in charge. Following the recent years of “the worst Tokyo-Seoul ties since the normalization of diplomatic relations,” this is a chance to work for a dramatic rapprochement.


Park Jin, Yoon’s nominee to be foreign minister, told Hayashi during a meeting that he wished to work with Japan on helping Ukraine as it battles the Russian invasion. There is real meaning in joining hands on humanitarian aid, sanctions against Russia, and other facets of the crisis.


The environment surrounding both Japan and South Korea is more difficult than ever before.


The international order has been badly shaken by Moscow’s attack on Ukraine, while at the same time there is increasing wariness of China’s moves toward Taiwan, which it continues to menace. Just before Yoon’s inauguration, North Korea fired off several missiles.


Democratic countries including Japan and South Korea must strengthen their mutual bonds for the sake of the region’s peace and stability. In late May, U.S. President Joe Biden will be visiting both nations, and will be attending four-party talks including Australia and India while in Tokyo. This must be made an opportunity to restore Japan-U.S.-South Korea cooperation.


Yoon has been speaking on the need to improve relations with Japan since he was on the presidential campaign trail. But navigating the bilateral relationship with the history of Japan’s colonial domination of Korea will be difficult. It demands a diplomatic strategy that takes public sentiment into account.


Seven years ago, the administration of then President Park Geun-hye signed a deal with Tokyo to provide relief to former South Korean wartime “comfort women.” However, the Park government did not put in the effort needed to win the support and understanding of the South Korean people. This failure played a large role in the death of the agreement. This kind of mistake cannot be repeated.


Meanwhile, procedures for the liquidation of the corporate assets of Japanese firms seized as compensation for forcing Korean workers to labor in Japanese factories during World War II continue apace. If the liquidations go ahead, the Japanese government will be forced to take countermeasures. We call on the Yoon administration to first and foremost take steps to prevent this situation from getting any worse.


President Yoon has displayed a strong desire to come to a mutual understanding with Japan. Yoon and Kishida should create an opportunity to meet in person soon, and set the stage for Japan and South Korea to better ties.


We hope both men will show the leadership to achieve this goal.

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