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Yoon highlights Japan detente as he marks first year in office

Foreign policy initiatives biggest accomplishment since inauguration: Yoon

By Choi Si-young

Published : May 9, 2023 - 15:47

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President Yoon Suk Yeol at his weekly Cabinet meeting at the presidential office in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yoon’s office) President Yoon Suk Yeol at his weekly Cabinet meeting at the presidential office in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yoon’s office)

Improving ties between South Korea and Japan will open the door to a new future where the two countries, along with the US, can bolster the current coalition working on North Korea’s denuclearization, President Yoon said Tuesday, a day before his first anniversary of taking office.

Speaking at a weekly Cabinet meeting, Yoon lauded closer Seoul-Tokyo relations prompted by his summits with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in March and May -- a revival of regular visits to each other’s countries after 12 years. Resuming such “shuttle diplomacy,” which ended Monday when Kishida returned to Tokyo after a two-day trip, heralds a “new level of ties,” according to Yoon.

“If we don’t turn a blind eye to the dark past but deal with it with sincerity, we can overcome difficulties facing both Korea and Japan and usher in a new era,” Yoon said, citing Kishida’s remarks at the Sunday meeting that he “personally feels my heart ache” for people affected by the “very challenging and sad times” during Japan’s 1910-45 rule of the peninsula.

The comments were seen as a nod to the colonial-era dispute that had plunged ties to a fresh low. Yoon’s March 6 decision, which compensates Korean forced labor victims without involving Japanese companies held liable for damages by a 2018 Supreme Court ruling, and calls for Kishida’s open apology for the rights abuses in particular had led to the public statement.

Yoon doubled down on expanding the existing three-way coalition aimed at curbing North Korea’s growing nuclear ambitions, saying the three partners will hold a summit in late May on the sidelines of the Group of Seven meeting in Japan. In late April, Yoon and US President Joe Biden reached a nuclear accord giving Seoul bigger say in a potential US nuclear response to Pyongyang.

Yoon describes the Washington Declaration, the deal, as an upgrade to the existing Seoul-Washington mutual defense treaty -- an agreement back in the limelight as the two allies mark 70 years of relations this year.

South Korea has seen unmatched changes in foreign policy in the last year, Yoon said at the Tuesday meeting, essentially endorsing his latest foreign policy engagement as the biggest accomplishment of his first year in office. Such initiatives, Yoon noted, involved more than security roles to play.

That is because not only did Seoul join a NATO summit in June last year for the first time, but Asia’s fourth-largest economy shook hands with Saudi Arabia on business deals worth at least 40 trillion won ($30.2 billion), according to Yoon, who added he had helped to attract an additional $30 billion from the United Arab Emirates.

“Selling South Korea to global business leaders and finding businesses that could deliver us quality investment are what I am after to make this country a global hub for innovation,” Yoon said of efforts his administration intends to support.

South Korea, Yoon added, has abided by the rules-based international order and has lived up to its status as a global power that is just as much invested in contributing to the international community as it is interested in advancing its economic power.

Carrying on with that mission will boost South Korea’s security and economy while giving businesses and ordinary South Koreans what they need and can take advantage of, according to Yoon.

Yoon’s office said Tuesday afternoon that the president will not hold a press conference to mark the anniversary.