Below is an interview with Upper House member Matsukawa Rui (LDP). The interview was conducted by Miki Rieko.
The Yoon Suk-yeol administration, which was launched in May 2022, has put a lot of effort [into Japan-South Korea relations]. Yoon clearly stated that he would arrive at a resolution of the wartime labor issue before the liquidation of assets of Japanese companies, which were seized by a South Korean court order. Yoon is looking for a concrete solution through a private-public council while listening to the defendants’ views. The South Korean government submitted to the court a written opinion arguing against liquidation of the assets.
Many South Koreans bear some degree of resentment toward Japan, and it takes courage to pursue a future-oriented policy toward their neighbor. Yoon called for the improvement of Japan-South Korea relations on Liberation Day, August 15 (which commemorates liberation from Japanese colonial rule).
The change in the security environment is behind the Yoon administration’s aim to improve Japan-South Korea relations. China is expanding its military power, and North Korea is continuing to develop missiles and nuclear weapons. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine heightens this critical situation. There is an increasing need to strengthen cooperation between Japan, the U.S., and South Korea.
Yoon is a conservative realist who shares Japan’s recognition of the security threats posed by China and North Korea. Unlike the previous Moon Jae-in administration, Yoon does not believe that being on good terms with North Korea will be effective. Yoon says that he will maintain the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system no matter what China says.
The 1965 Agreement Between Japan and the Republic of Korea Concerning the Settlement of Problems completely and definitively resolved the issue of compensation for former laborers. Japan should not compromise on historical issues. A reset of Japan-South Korea relations is one of the greatest diplomatic achievements of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo.
The Japan-South Korea relationship is not just about historical issues. Japan-U.S.-ROK cooperation is extremely important for Japan’s national interests in the East Asian security environment, where there is talk of a Taiwan contingency. Communication is more important when there is a difficult problem. An issue that is put aside will remain unresolved.
I would like Prime Minister Kishida Fumio and Yoon to first look for opportunities to hold a summit meeting in a third country. Some say that there is no need to meet if there will be no tangible results, but communication and compromise are two separate issues. If the South Korean government succeeds in preventing the liquidation of assets, Japan may consider relaxing technology export controls (such as those for semiconductor materials, which Japan tightened in 2019) to the extent that economic security is not affected. We can cooperate on the semiconductor supply chain.
Following the South Korean military’s illumination with radar of a Japanese ship in 2018, the relationship between the defense authorities of Japan and South Korea cannot be said to be normal. Although suspicions cannot be easily dispelled, there are signs of improvement in the relationship, such as Japan’s inviting South Korea to the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) fleet review this year.
A Taiwan contingency is a contingency for Japan. Unfortunately, cooperation between China, Russia, and North Korea is also possible. The South Korean military has 600,000 personnel, more than double the size of the Self-Defense Forces. It is vitally important for South Korea to be on the side of Japan and the U.S., not on the side of China and Russia.
We should communicate to South Korea that it will be affected in the event of a Taiwan contingency and develop a system for cooperation. Japan should not miss an opportunity to normalize relations with South Korea while the Yoon administration, which is conservative and inclined to cooperate in security, is in place. This is necessary for Japan’s own national interests.