As Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida arrived in Seoul on Sunday to foster a new détente between the neighboring countries, South Koreans were anxiously waiting to see what Japan would do on the Korean Peninsula in the early 20th century. What did he want to say about the brutal colonial rule of
A two-day visit by Mr. Kishida follows. A visit in March Tokyo by South Korean President Yoon Suk-yul. It means shuttle diplomacy between two key US allies is back on track after regular exchanges between the countries’ leaders abruptly ended in 2011 due to historical differences.
Few countries have welcomed the thaw as much as the United States. For years, it Emphasis is placed on Tokyo and Seoul should cooperate more to address past grievances and help Washington contain the North Korean nuclear threat and rein in China’s economic and military ambitions.
When he met Mr. Yoon In Washington Late last month, President Biden thanked the South Korean leader for his “courageous, principled diplomacy” with Japan.
In March, Mr. Yoon removed a stumbling block in relations with Japan when he announced that South Korea would not seek Japanese reparations for victims of forced labor during World War II, but instead create its own fund for them. will Mr. Yoon said that Japan should no longer be expected to “kneel because of our history of 100 years ago.”
The olive branch to Tokyo is part of Mr. Yun’s broader effort to reshape South Korean diplomacy, bringing his country closer to countries with “shared values,” notably the United States. On things like supply chain and “free and open” India. – The Pacific
Mr. Yun had diplomatic privileges. A political boon But for Mr. Kishida at home Expensive for Mr. Yoon. In his own country, where South Koreans accused him of “treacherous, disgraceful diplomacy”. His domestic critics say he gave too much and got too little in return from Japan, which they say he has never properly apologized for or atoned for – Japan is a common complaint among many other Asian victims of World War II aggression, particularly in China and North Korea.
For many South Koreans, what matters most in relations with Tokyo is how Japanese leaders view its colonial era, a time when Koreans were forced to adopt Japanese names. was when schools removed Korean language and history from the curriculum; and when tens of thousands of Korean women were forced into sexual slavery for Japan’s Imperial Army. They will likely assess Mr. Kishida’s visit to see if — and how directly — he apologizes for the past.
“All South Koreans are listening to what Kishida has to say about history,” said Lee Jonghwan, an expert on Korea-Japan relations at Seoul National University. “If he says something vague, just circling the statements of past Japanese leaders, as he will, it won’t go very well.”
Mr. Yoon’s government has tried to sell South Koreans on its access by raising hopes that Japan will reciprocate — for example, Japanese companies that benefited from wartime forced labor in South Korea. By allowing voluntary contributions to the Korean Victims’ Fund. Tokyo has picked up in recent weeks. Export control After imposed on South Korea. The Forced Labor Controversy 2018 flared up and started the process of putting the country back on track.White listof preferred trading partners.
But if Mr. Kushida fails to live up to South Koreans’ expectations of the date, “it’s going to overshadow everything he’s been able to accomplish in the last few months,” Daniel Snyder said. Lecturer in East Asian Studies. Stanford University. “It’s more important than what they say about the past, for example, Japanese companies eventually contributing to a fund for Korean forced laborers.”
Analysts said the visit to Seoul was a test of leadership for Mr. Kishida, and an opportunity to show that he could extend Mr. Yun’s efforts toward reconciliation.
“There is an extraordinary window for him to demonstrate a bold strategy and change the seemingly endless negativity between Japan and Korea,” said University of Connecticut professor Alexis Dudon, an expert on Korea-Japan relations. “
For example, Mr. Kushida could make a reflective visit to any memorial in Seoul that Koreans endured during the Japanese occupation, Professor Dudon said, comparing such a move to 1970 Visit to Poland By German Chancellor Willi Brandt. But doing so — let alone kneeling in front of a monument, as Chancellor Brandt famously did in Warsaw — may be too much to ask of Mr. Kushida, given that his country’s right-wing nationalists “regard him as a are also willing to pay the price. Weakening Korea in the mudslinging memory wars between the countries,” he said.
The last time a Japanese leader visited South Korea, relations deteriorated to such an extent that Prime Minister Shinzo AbeClearly remained sitting down During the opening ceremony of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, North and South Korean Olympians march together.
Mr Kishda, traveling amid a more upbeat mood, has said he wants to “pick up speed” on improving relations. But few analysts believed that the decades-long tension would ease easily given domestic political pressure from the two leaders.
“More than 90 percent of our bilateral relationship is domestic politics,” said Kunihiko Miyake, a former Japanese diplomat. “So the South Koreans cannot forgive us. They will continue to put pressure on us, and they want to keep this kind of relationship forever by moving the goalposts.”
For his part, Mr. Kishida needed the support of Japan’s right-leaning politicians, who are among the most influential in choosing party leaders. Mr Miyake said he would be “surprised” if Mr Kishida “suddenly made overly conciliatory comments about South Korea.”
Analysts say, however, that Tokyo is considering how to navigate subtle pressure from the United States.
Junya Nishino, a law professor at Tokyo’s Keio University, said Mr. Biden’s repeated praise of Mr. Yun’s diplomacy “was a kind of message not only to President Yun, but to Kishida.” Mr Nishino added that recent electoral gains by Mr Kishida’s party in a special election last month could also give him “more diplomatic space”.
Mr. Yun’s commitment to improving relations with Tokyo is partly supported by changing public opinion in South Korea. In a recent survey, China has taken the place of Japan. As the country is perceived as less favorable, especially by young people.
But analysts say misgivings about Japan run deeper among South Koreans than Mr. Yoon might like to believe. A March survey found that 64 percent of South Korean respondents said there was no rush to improve relations unless Japan changed its attitude toward history.
Ms Dudden warned Seoul, Tokyo and Washington to “treat history as mere background music and be irrelevant to how it informs immediate concerns – in this instance, North Korea and Stay strong on China as well.”
As the history of bilateral relations between South Korea and Japan has repeatedly shown, conciliation on one historical dispute is less likely than on another, such as over territorial rights. A set of islands Between the two nations, is alive again.
“History issues have a way of coming back and biting you back,” Mr. Snyder said. “These are not just short-term public opinion issues. They are identity issues in Korea.