South Korea seeks to launch talks to resolve historic feuds with Japan
South Korea hopes a high-level visit to Tokyo next week will kick off talks aimed at a breakthrough in historic differences despite concerns that the death of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could disrupt efforts to restore the ties, Seoul officials said.
Relations between the two American North Asian allies have been strained over disputes dating back to Japan’s occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945. Washington has been pushing for Tokyo and Seoul to mend fences in the face of the nuclear threat North Korea and the growing influence of China. Officials in the administration of new South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May on a promise to improve relations with Japan, told Reuters they felt emboldened by the recent election victory Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, which could give him more leeway to advance his policy. program for another three years.
Foreign Minister Park Jin will visit Tokyo as early as next week, a trip that a senior Japanese policy official says is aimed at “turning on the tap” for serious negotiations on forced labor issues, which have stalled under Yoon’s predecessor. Park will travel to Tokyo on July 18, Japanese state broadcaster NHK reported on Thursday. South Korea did not immediately confirm the information.
Another official said Yoon would send a high-level delegation led by the prime minister when Japan held a public memorial service for Abe, who was shot and killed last week while on the campaign trail. Yoon would also likely use his August 15 Liberation Day speech marking Korea’s independence from Japan as a chance to send a message of reconciliation to Tokyo, the official added.
“What we’re trying to do is open the door to real talks,” the senior official said. The assassination of Abe, who was a defining leader in Japanese politics and a divisive figure in Korea, has raised new doubts about the prospects for relations with South Korea, where bitter memories of the war run deep. .
Some analysts say Korea could be put on the back burner as Kishida presses to fulfill Abe’s unfulfilled dreams, including constitutional reform to allow Japanese troops to fight overseas. But some Korean officials see Japan more willing to talk now, with pressure from US President Joe Biden’s administration also playing a potential role.
“We see great potential in stronger trilateral relations,” Derek Chollet, adviser to the US State Department, told Reuters this week. Yoon and Kishida met Biden on the sidelines of the recent NATO summit for their first trilateral talks, and Chollet said Washington stands ready to facilitate strong ties between its two allies.
At home, the Yoon government is gathering opinions from forced labor victims, lawyers and experts through a newly launched public-private panel, which held its second hearing on Thursday. At stake are South Korean court orders for the seizure of the assets of Japanese companies accused of not compensating some of their colonial-era workers. Tokyo has warned of serious repercussions if the orders are enforced.
The first official said the Yoon administration was looking for a “realistic and achievable proposal” that would win the consent of the victims and the Japanese government. A third official was more cautious, saying the issue of compensation should be resolved alongside trade and other disputes, which could make compromise more difficult.
Yuko Nakano, a fellow at the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said any compromise would require patience and commitment from Yoon and Kishida. “High-level visits and meetings often attract attention, but it is equally important to continue to build on the efforts that are taking place below the surface,” she said.
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