Japan’s Prime Minister Kishida Fumio visited Seoul on Sunday for a two-day summit with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, the first bilateral visit by a Japanese leader in 12 years.
Kishida arrived in Seoul on Sunday morning and laid flowers at a national cemetery to honor South Korea’s war veterans. He then met with Yoon at the presidential office for talks on various issues and to resume dialogue on semiconductor exports.
The summit was seen as a positive step to restore “shuttle diplomacy” and enhance collaboration between the two key allies of the United States in Asia. Kishida said he hoped to have an “open-hearted exchange of views” with Yoon and work together on regional and global challenges. Yoon said he believed that their newly started relationship was moving forward with speed and that they had to move away from the past issues.
However, the historical differences between Japan and South Korea also cast a shadow over the summit. Japan and South Korea have had a rocky relationship for decades, stemming from Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. Japan’s colonial-era atrocities towards Korea, such as sexual slavery and forced labor, have made reconciliation difficult.
Kishida expressed his “sincere remorse” for Japan’s colonial rule of Korea but maintained that the issue of compensation for forced labor victims was settled by a 1965 treaty. He also said that his administration stands by the views laid out in past statements by Japanese governments that have apologized for Japan’s wartime actions.
Yoon proposed that South Korean businesses pay the victims through donations, instead of Japanese firms that were ordered by a court. He said this was a compromise that aimed to avoid further escalation of the dispute and pave the way for dialogue with Tokyo.
The two leaders faced criticism from some victims and activists who said they did not reflect their wishes or interests. They argued that Japan should not be let off the hook for its past crimes and that South Korea should not give up its legal rights. Some protesters staged a rally against Kishida’s trip on Saturday, demanding that he apologize for Japan’s war crimes.
They agreed to cooperate on denuclearizing North Korea and maintaining peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific. They also reaffirmed their commitment to trilateral cooperation with the United States and welcomed Washington’s efforts to strengthen its alliances in Asia.
The summit was also seen as a preparation for the Group of Seven summits in Hiroshima later this month, where Yoon has been invited by Kishida as a guest. The two leaders said they looked forward to meeting again at the G7 summit and continuing their dialogue on various issues