Thawing of relations between Japan and South Korea
GS 2 India & Foreign Relations International Organisations & Groupings
- South Korean President Yoon recently visited Tokyo and conferred with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, marking the first visit by a South Korean president to Japan since 2011.
History of conflict between Japan & South Korea :
- Both countries share a complicated past.
- Since at least the seventh century, they have fought intermittently, and Japan has repeatedly attempted to subjugate the peninsula.
Colonization of peninsula
- In 1910, Japan colonized Korea by annexing the territory.
- In the late 1930s, Japan began to prepare for conflict. People were forced to labor in factories and mines or join the military.
- It also sent tens of thousands of women from across Asia, the majority of whom were Korean, to serve Japanese personnel in military brothels. The victims were referred to as “comfort women.”
End of Japanese rule
- Japan’s rule over Korea ended with its defeat in the conflict in 1945.
- However, it was not until 20 years later that South Korean President Park Chung-hee consented to normalize relations with the country in exchange for hundreds of millions of dollars in loans and grants.
- According to Tokyo, the 1965 treaty that restored diplomatic relations and provided more than $800 million in Japanese financial assistance has resolved the issue.
Demand of apology
- The issue resurfaced in 2018 when South Korea’s highest court ordered a Japanese company to compensate Koreans it used as forced labor. However, it is still not resolved.
- South Korea has frequently complained that Japan has not publicly apologized for its past actions.
- It has also been argued that the current generation of Japanese is not culpable for the actions of their ancestors and is therefore not obligated to apologize. This is a matter of interpretation and there can never be any finality; therefore, the matter must be resolved.
- Mutual suspicion and animosity have harmed bilateral relations over issues such as Wartime compensation by Japanese companies to Korean employees during the colonial period, Comfort women, and Territorial issues revolving around Takeshima island (also known as Dokdo by the Koreans).
Outcomes of the recent meet:
Removal of export control
- Since 2019, Japan intends to eliminate export restrictions imposed on South Korea regarding three materials required to produce semiconductors and displays.
- As Yoon and Kishida reached an agreement in Tokyo, Seoul also terminated the dispute.
- Security concerns were also addressed. Kishida declared that the two nations would recommence vice-ministerial-level defense dialogue and strategic discussions.
Civil society cooperation
- On a different level, an agreement was reached to foster relations throughout civil society.
Challenges of North Korea & China
- The gradual escalation of North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, including the launch of a long-range missile on the eve of the Yoon-Kishida summit, was discussed.
- Other concerns, such as China’s threat to the existing regional order based on norms, were also discussed.
Address of important issues
- During his trip to Japan, the first by a South Korean president in 12 years, Yoon addressed the majority of the issues.
- Significantly, Yoon’s visit occurred just 10 days after the two leaders reached an agreement to resolve a dispute over South Korea’s 2018 court judgment against the use of forced Korean labor by Japanese companies during World War II.
Future oriented relationship
- The significance of the connections can be measured by the diplomatic boost and political impetus they provide for establishing a “future-oriented” bilateral relationship.
- Since Japan and South Korea are allies of the United States, such camaraderie between the two Asian allies could aid the United States in carrying out its Indo-Pacific strategy.
- In its previous trilateral meetings, the United States has consistently urged both allies to pursue reconciliation and create political space for dialogue.
- The United States was concerned about the fraught relations between the two Asian allies as it sought to present a united front against the rising power of China and threats posed by North Korea’s expanding missile and nuclear arsenal.
- The engagements can create an opportunity for increased economic security cooperation, including coordination of supply chains and resilience against Chinese economic coercion.
- The decision by Japan to abolish export restrictions will provide a historic opportunity to normalize economic and trade relations between the two countries.
Korea’s domestic Challenge:
- Yoon has also encountered significant domestic political headwinds. Yoon was criticized by the opposition for failing to obtain an apology from Japan.Approximately sixty percent of South Koreans disapproved of Yoon’s handling of the forced labor issue with Japan.
- Yoon’s initiative was viewed as a diplomatic thaw in the long-frozen relations between Japan and South Korea and as a factor in the future of the Japan-US-South Korea trilateral dialogue framework.
- There is no language Japan can use to express remorse for its past actions that will be acceptable to the Koreans. Such historical issues will continue to resurface in Japan-Korea relations unless a consensus is reached between the two parties.
Daily Mains Question
[Q] The bilateral connections between Japan and South Korea have been harmed by mutual mistrust and historical events. Analyse. What impact do the issues between two Asian nations have on the Indo-Pacific strategy?