Yoon: Seoul-Tokyo ties key to address NoKor concerns

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s president wants to quickly overcome decades of lingering hostility left over from Japan’s past colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula and forge a united front on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and other regional security and economic challenges facing the neighbors.

“We cannot afford to waste time while leaving strained Korea-Japan relations unattended,” President Yoon Suk Yeol said in written response to questions posed by several foreign media outlets including The Associated Press. “I believe we must end the vicious cycle of mutual hostility and work together to seek our two countries’ common interests.”

Yoon’s comments were provided Wednesday, March 15, 2023, a day before he travels to Tokyo for a closely watched summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. The focus of attention is what corresponding steps, if any, Kishida would take in response to Yoon’s recent plans to use South Korean funds to compensate some of the colonial-era Korean forced laborers without requiring Japanese contributions.

Yoon’s push has triggered criticism from some victims and his domestic political rivals, who have called for direct compensation from Japanese companies that employed the forced laborers. But Yoon has defended his decision, saying greater ties with Japan are essential to tackle a slew of foreign policy and economic challenges.

“There is an increasing need for Korea and Japan to cooperate in this time of a poly-crisis with North Korean nuclear and missile threats escalating and global supply chains being disrupted,” Yoon said. “I am confident that the Japanese government will join us in opening a new chapter of Korea-Japan relations which will go down to history.”

Addressing Yoon’s comments, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said later Wednesday that Tokyo seeks to strengthen “strategic cooperation” with South Korea as well as trilaterally with the United States. He said he hopes that there will be “open-hearted exchanges” between the leaders of the two countries. (AP)