Kopar Khairane

Why stronger connections between Seoul and Tokyo are very important

Relationships between South Korea and Japan seem to be strengthening, which is a good trend for the Indo-Pacific's security and prosperity. The Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio's visit to Seoul on May 7 and 8—the first official visit by a Japanese leader to South Korea in more than 12 years—is the most recent indication of this encouraging trend.

Given the tense relations between Seoul and Tokyo over the last ten years due to disagreements surrounding Japan's colonialism of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945, Mr. Kishida's visit was notable. In order to confront the mounting threats to their shared security, President Yoon and Prime Minister Kishida are working to improve ties with and collaborate with the US.

Both countries are subject to challenges from North Korea, China, and Russia, all of which want to alter the security system and the rules-based order that the US and its allies established after World War II. Washington, their shared ally, as well as other countries in the Indo-Pacific, including India, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, applaud the recent developments between Seoul and Tokyo.

President Yoon Suk Yeol of South Korea deserves praise for his early efforts to mend ties with Japan that had been strained under his predecessor, Moon Jae-in, as well as for refusing to let the past dictate the present. On May 7, Yoon declared, “We can't let the past prevent us from moving forward.” Kishida Fumio, the prime minister of Japan, was visiting Seoul at the time. Prime Minister Kishida, on the other hand, showed political fortitude by going to see President Yoon despite resistance from conservative forces in Japan.

Mr. Kishida expressed compassion for the Koreans who were made into slaves during Japanese colonial authority, adding that his “heart aches” over Korea's suffering at the time—a rare for post-war Japanese political figures. Kishida said that it was his “duty as Japan's prime minister to work with President Yoon and South Korea going forward, building on the efforts of our forebears to get through challenging times.”

Both men deserve praise for recognising the painful past of their nations while looking to the future. In addition to benefiting their societies, the two Asian nations' closer connections strengthen attempts to restrain North Korean aggression and balance China's expanding sway in the area.

Seoul and Tokyo are concerned about Pyongyang's continuous belligerence, the PLA's frequent intrusions into its neighbors' airspace and territorial seas, as well as Xi's intensified pressure campaign against Taiwan. This has forced Yoon and Kishida to attempt putting the past behind them and together to combat shared dangers.

In addition, Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, which came just after he and Xi Jinping announced their “no limits” alliance, raised alarm bells in Seoul and Tokyo and increased worries about both leaders' regional aspirations. The strikes in Ukraine have also served as a reminder to Japan and South Korea that their security depends in part on having access to reliable supply of gas and oil.

Both states are resource deficient and rely significantly on other nations for their energy needs. Yoon and Kishida discussed methods to diversify their energy sources as well as how to work together on liquified natural gas joint purchases and pricing talks, according to reporting by Nikkei, to hedge their risks against the fossil fuel coercion that Putin is known to wield.

Other security-related issues discussed at the summit on May 7-8 included faster information sharing between Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington regarding North Korean missile tests, shared intelligence, and Japan's potential participation in U.S.-South Korea U.S.-ROK Nuclear Consultative Group nuclear deterrence consultations.

The two mutually reliant nations have also begun to mend fences in non-security-related domains. Mr. Yoon and Mr. Kishida spoke about working together on projects related to supply chain security, biotech, space, and material sciences during their discussions. The two leaders also consented to work together on semiconductor chips, without giving any more information.

Japan's expertise in generating semiconductor materials and South Korea's capacity for semiconductor fabrication make them perfect partners. Prime Minister Kishida responded to a long-standing worry of Seoul by allowing South Korean officials to tour the Daiichi nuclear facility in Fukushima, which sustained significant damage during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Seoul will get more knowledge regarding Tokyo's choice to discharge the plant's radioactively treated water into the Pacific by gaining access to the facility. Last but not least, ideas for expanded youth and cultural people-to-people contacts between Yoon's and Kishida's nations were discussed. Despite these positive changes, both Mr.

Domestic criticism to Yoon and Mr. Kishida's desire to strengthen their relationship exists. The establishment of a fund to compensate living forced laborers who endured abuse at the hands of Imperial Japan by President Yoon has drawn criticism.

An agreement that some in South Korea claim absolves Japan of responsibility for its brutal treatment of Koreans as a colonial power involves South Korean businesses paying for the fund rather than Japanese businesses. Prime Minister Kishida's interactions with Seoul in Japan have drawn criticism from nationalist groups within the governing Liberal Democratic Party who reject giving up on matters connected to Imperial Japan's behavior in the past.

Others in Japan are dubious about whether Yoon's successor or possibly Yoon himself would uphold agreements made with South Korea as political pressure grows.

Despite domestic politics in South Korea and Japan, there has been an improvement in relations between the two nations as a result of a number of factors that are driving their leaders to cooperate on shared goals while keeping their painful pasts in mind.

Seoul and Tokyo are assuming a long-needed role of enhancing the security and economic prosperity of the region by taking efforts to leverage their combined resources for tackling common concerns. Another benefit of their new cooperative efforts might be progressing in overcoming Seoul's and Tokyo's contentious history. This unavoidably difficult journey deserves support since it will need for consistent political bravery on all sides. 4

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