Japan is moving toward accepting South Korea as a partner that Tokyo can work with following Seoul’s decision to put behind their historical dispute, South Korean Ambassador to Japan Yun Duk-min said Monday in an annual meeting meant to update the foreign minister on the latest issues.
The ambassador was referring to a March 6 decision that essentially skips Japan’s official apology for and direct compensation to Korean victims forced to work for Japanese companies during Japan’s 1910-45 occupation of the Korean Peninsula. The firms had refused to recognize a 2018 Korean court ruling that held them liable for damages.
The Yoon Suk Yeol administration, which decided to compensate the victims with Korean company funds while waiting for the Japanese companies to contribute to a separate fund meant to improve ties, had to reach a resolution, according to Ambassador Yun. The opposition parties slammed Yoon for “letting Japan walk free.”
“Even Japan’s right-wing politicians are showing signs of change,” Yun said of lawmakers who are often wary of closer Seoul-Tokyo ties because they believe Korea hampers progress in ties by finding fault with Japan’s handling of colonial disputes.
Yun indicated the shift in perception could invite a stronger three-way coalition of both countries and the US, which has been working on North Korea’s denuclearization for some time. Washington had asked for deeper three-way cooperation to contain the North, an isolated country that has recently ramped up tensions with its weapon launches.
The March summit between Yoon and his Japanese counterpart was a start, Yoon added, saying the two countries still need to work out differences over looking back on shared history.
The envoy was referring to Japan’s announcement Tuesday, when it will reveal potential textbook revisions involving the wartime forced labor and a group of islets between the two countries. Tokyo claims ownership over the islands controlled by Seoul and refuses to acknowledge the wartime rights abuses.
Still, Korea and Japan share “an almost identical set of strategic interests,” Yun noted, stressing the two countries should build on the recent momentum to ride out global challenges together.
Meanwhile, a senior Foreign Ministry official in Seoul said it was “regrettable” that the Japanese foreign minister said the forced labor dispute is now a “closed case.” Asked what the Korea would do about Japan’s potentially revisionist textbooks to be out soon, the official said Seoul would raise the issue with Tokyo if the situation warrants it, without elaborating on details.
“We need a compilation of historical, objective facts,” the official said.