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Yoon to meet Japan PM again amid thaw: sources

By Choi Si-young

Published : May 1, 2023 - 15:46

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The South Korean flag (right) and Japanese flag. (123rf) The South Korean flag (right) and Japanese flag. (123rf)

President Yoon Suk Yeol will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida again during Kishida’s two-day trip to Seoul starting Sunday, diplomatic sources familiar with the matter said Monday. Japanese media outlets last week reported on a potential visit.

What the two leaders will discuss at the summit, following their meeting in Tokyo in March, and whether they will add anything to a new nuclear accord reached between South Korea and the US last week remain uncertain, according to those sources.

But the May summit is largely expected to build on a thaw in Seoul-Tokyo ties for a stronger three-way coalition that includes the US, as the group steps up checks on growing nuclear threats from North Korea.

Yoon’s March 6 decision to compensate Korean victims without involving Japanese firms put behind a dispute over forced labor during Japan’s 1910-45 rule of the Korean Peninsula. The companies had refused to recognize a 2018 Korean court ruling that held them liable for damages.

Kishida’s decision to reciprocate Yoon’s Tokyo visit from March 16-17 also comes at a time when Seoul is expecting what it sees as a “sincere response” to the March 6 compromise. Upholding Japan’s 1998 apology for its colonial rule by Kishida is considered the needed corresponding step to convince Korea that Tokyo is as serious about a “future-oriented direction” in relations by amicably resolving historical disputes.

Still, it is not likely that the Japanese leader, who has said he respects Japan’s overall stance on colonial history without going into details, will elaborate on his previous statement by specifically referring to parts of the 1998 Seoul-Tokyo declaration that discuss Japan’s “genuine reflection on its wartime past and sincere apology for it.”

Such reluctance reveals Japan’s ulterior motives for taking Korea for granted, according to critics who say Tokyo should be more forthright about facing up to its past.

The absence of such direct reference to colonial rule, however, is unlikely to daunt the Yoon administration as the conservative president looks to cement three-way ties by meeting with his Japanese as well as US counterparts again, at a gathering on the sidelines of a three-day Group of Seven that starts May 19 in Hiroshima, Japan.

The back-to-back gatherings are all meant to discuss North Korea’s armament. At a summit Wednesday last week, Yoon and US President Joe Biden shook hands on a deal giving Seoul a bigger say in a potential US nuclear response to Pyongyang. Yoon’s six-day trip to the US that ended Saturday was the highlight of the push to contain the North, which now routinely makes threats to use nuclear weapons.

At a local forum Monday, Foreign Minister Park Jin, who had accompanied Yoon during the tour, touted the nuclear deal, dubbed the Washington Declaration, saying it offers the “most practical and best way” out of the North Korea crisis for South Korea, a nonnuclear state. Nothing is decided on a Yoon-Kishida summit, Park added.