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Yoon’s emphasis on Japan reflects public opinion; Tokyo, Seoul look ahead to the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties


Reuters/file photo
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, left, shakes hands with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol during a meeting at the presidential office in Seoul on May 26.

SEOUL – Against the backdrop of close diplomatic ties between Japan and South Korea, half of people in Japan and more than 40% of people in South Korea rate Japan-South Korea relations as good, according to a recent poll.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who attaches great importance to Japan, is facing difficulties in managing his government, and details of new cooperation agreements between the two countries will now be the focus of attention in light of the 60th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties. next year.

Leader compatibility

“Based on the strong trust between [Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and myself]“Bilateral exchanges have greatly expanded in various areas and levels in the past year,” Yoon said when he met the prime minister for summit talks in Seoul on May 26.

Kishida and Yoon have met in person 10 times and are considered the most compatible Japanese and South Korean leaders to date, according to a South Korean government source. Nearly all diplomatic and economic bilateral talks, which were suspended under the previous administration of President Moon Jae-in, have resumed.

Yoon announced a resolution to the issue regarding lawsuits against former wartime advanced workers in March 2023, leading to the normalization of bilateral relations and the revival of mutual visits between leaders of the two countries. This was a top-down decision, which overcame the opposition of those around Yoon. He apparently believed that improving relations with Japan was indispensable in light of the dire security situation in which North Korea is pursuing the development of nuclear weapons and missiles.

‘Humiliating diplomacy’

The conservative ruling People Power Party suffered a crushing defeat in South Korea’s general election in April, and left-wing opposition parties such as the Democratic Party of Korea won nearly two-thirds of the seats in the National Assembly.

Nevertheless, Yoon’s stance of emphasizing Japan shows no signs of wavering. At a press conference in May, Yoon expressed his wish for a forward-looking development of relations between Japan and South Korea. However, opposition parties have been notable in their political use of Japan-related issues, such as landing on the South Korean-controlled Takeshima Islands in Shimane Prefecture and criticizing Yoon’s actions towards Japan as “humiliating diplomacy.”

In the latest joint survey conducted in late May by The Yomiuri Shimbun and South Korean newspaper Hankook Ilbo, 42% of respondents in South Korea said the current state of Japan-South Korea relations was good . When this 42% is broken down by political orientation, 63% of conservatives who support Yoon said relations were good, followed by 41% of center-righters and 23% of leftists, or progressives. The same trend was observed last year, showing that leftists who do not support Yoon are unhappy with Japan-Korea relations.

The former war issue between Japan and South Korea over the advanced workers is still ongoing. Some claimants have refused to accept a solution that would see a Seoul-related foundation pay an amount equivalent to damages on behalf of Japanese companies, and the opposition is calling for the solution to be withdrawn.

Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications issued administrative guidelines to LY Corp earlier this year. – operator of the Line messaging app – to review its capital ties with major shareholder Naver Corp., a South Korean technology company, over breaches of personal information of the app users. The ministry’s move sparked a backlash from South Korea’s opposition parties, who called it an “invasion of cyber territory.” The opposition parties are putting pressure on the Yoon government to take a stronger stand against Japan.

Future-oriented relationships

Yoon has about three years left in his term, raising concerns that a change in government could lead to a major shift in policy toward Japan.

Tokyo, Seoul and academics have begun exploring ways to further deepen bilateral cooperation ahead of the 60th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties next year.

There is a proposal, mainly from the Seoul side, to release a new joint document, aiming to improve the content of the then forward-looking 1998 Japan-Republic of Korea Joint Statement signed by then Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and then-President Kim Dae. Jung.

There are also proposals aimed at helping people from the two countries realize the benefits of improved relations, such as allowing them to travel between the two countries without a passport and allowing the use of each other’s IC transport cards in both countries.

South Korea was the most popular overseas destination for Japanese tourists in 2023, with 2.32 million visitors. Likewise, Japan was the most popular overseas destination for South Korean tourists that year, with approximately 6.96 million visitors.

Choi Eunmi, a researcher at the Asian Institute for Policy Studies in South Korea, said next year would be a milestone year and that the two countries should “set out a vision for Japan and South Korea 20 to 30 years into the future .”

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