Japan and South Korea hope to mend ties under Yoon’s leadership

Japan and South Korea hope to mend ties under Yoon’s leadership

Kanako Mita, Sawako Utsumiand Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The President-elect of South Korea, Yoon Suk-yeol, will take up office next month. He is known to want to mend ties with Japan. Likewise, with Japan taking an increasingly anti-Russia stance under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida – following on from his predecessor Yoshihide Suga who took an anti-China approach – then Japan is increasingly isolated in Northeast Asia apart from Taiwan. Therefore, it seems an opportune time for Japan and South Korea to mend ties.

Despite America having military bases in Japan and South Korea, this nation couldn’t solve the recent spat between both nations, which largely revolves around history – and a territorial dispute. However, with the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in Japan taking a more nationalist tone in recent times, it seems that political elites in Tokyo understand the need to build bridges with the incoming administration of Yoon.

It could be that Kishida and Yoon – both pro-America – are able to develop a cordial relationship because of sharing certain similarities. This relates to the Korean Peninsula and the North Korea issue along with Kishida and Yoon being firmly in the camp of America – rather than Moon Jae-in who was more independent. 

Japan is increasingly anti-China and anti-Russian Federation concerning geopolitical issues. Also, Japan is more pro-Taiwan. However, South Korea takes a more nuanced approach to Northeast Asia. Therefore, under Moon, he avoided getting involved in the Taiwan issue – nor did he rebuke China and the Russian Federation to any serious degree. 

The Press Secretary of the transition team of Yoon – concerning the proposed meeting in Japan later this month by the South Korea delegation – said, “foundations for cooperation in policy toward North Korea and resolving issues of concern between South Korea and Japan” are in the offing. 

Yoon recently said, “South Korea and Japan are partners that share many tasks to tackle, such as security and economic prosperity and, therefore, to overcome the current thorny relationships, it is needed to form a future-oriented partnership based on correct perspective toward history.”

However, as Yoon says, “the correct perspective toward history” is likely to be superficial concerning the ruling LDP. After all, a sizeable proportion of elected members of the Japanese parliament visit Yasukuni Shrine and hold a completely different version of history.

The main hope is that Kishida and Yoon can build a strong personal relationship. If so, then this will be a start.

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