South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and his wife Kim Keon Hee landed in Tokyo, the capital of Japan, on Thursday for the first diplomatic visit by a South Korean head of state to the country in the past twelve years. A meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will be held later in the day, likely to talk about the common threats facing both countries.
Yoon, elected to the presidency last March, has been trying for months to recover relations with Japan, which have deteriorated considerably in recent years due to a long-standing dispute involving South Koreans who were forced to work in Japanese factories during the occupation of the Korean peninsula by Japan, which lasted from 1910 to 1945. The dispute dates back decades and according to Japan was resolved in a treaty ratified by the two countries in 1965, but was reopened in 2018 by a ruling by the Supreme Court of Seoul, following which relations between the two countries have soured considerably.
Yoon was invited to Tokyo after he proposed a plan to resolve this dispute a few days ago. The new proposal provides for payments to victims of forced labor to be made through a foundation, to which both Japanese and Korean private companies will be able to make voluntary payments. The move has been criticized in South Korea, where many believe Yoon has conceded too much, sacrificing the right to fair justice for victims to improve relations with the former colonizing power.
Government officials said a meeting between Yoon and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida would likely not normalize relations immediately, and that Japanese restrictions on technology exports to South Korea, for example, were likely to remain in place. The visit is however interpreted as a rapprochement between two countries that have a lot in common, especially as regards international politics: both have solid democratic institutions, are at the forefront of the development of new technologies and are allies with the United States. But above all, both feel threatened by the advance of North Korea’s nuclear program and by China’s strengthening, including military, in the region.
Just hours before Yoon’s arrival in Japan, North Korea fired an ICBM that landed in the waters west of Japan. It’s the second only this month.