The Korea Herald


Yoon to set off on back-to-back Japan, US tours

By Choi Si-young

Published : March 7, 2023 - 16:30

    • Link copied

President Yoon Suk Yeol chairs a Cabinet meeting Tuesday. (Yonhap) President Yoon Suk Yeol chairs a Cabinet meeting Tuesday. (Yonhap)

President Yoon Suk Yeol is set to meet with his Japanese and US counterparts as early as next week and next month, respectively, as the South Korean leader seeks stronger three-way ties he says are required to counter global challenges, the biggest of which involves containing North Korea.

For a summit with Japan, Yoon’s office has yet to reveal the exact date, saying it was “closely looking at options.” Japanese news agency Kyodo News said the meeting will take place Thursday next week for two days, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter.

Such a summit between the two leaders, which last took place in 2011, would shift Seoul’s focus from seeing Tokyo as a neighbor with which to clear historical disputes to a “partner to work with.” Yoon publicly embraced Japan in a key public address a week before rolling out a compromise deal Monday, aiming to end a dispute over offering restitution to Koreans forced to work for Japanese companies during Japan’s 1910-45 rule of the peninsula.

Under the arrangement, Korean companies that benefited from a 1965 bilateral agreement normalizing Seoul-Tokyo ties will compensate the victims while Japanese firms held liable for damages by a 2018 Korean court decision potentially pay into a separate scholarship fund meant to bolster ties. Embracing the deal, Tokyo reaffirmed an apology for colonial rule made in the 1998 Korea-Japan declaration, signed by then-Korean President Kim Dae-jung and former Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi.

Yoon reiterated Tuesday that the compromise was for the “good of both countries,” though critics say it leaves out a formal, specific apology for forced labor and direct compensation by the Japanese. But Japan is “no more an aggressor but a partner” sharing universal values with Korea as they find cooperation in security and economy, Yoon stressed. Japan is part of a three-way US-led military coalition on North Korea’s denuclearization and maintains key trade ties with South Korea.

Yoon added that closer Seoul-Tokyo ties are crucial to the world, since they help protect “freedom, peace and prosperity.” The policy goals have guided the Yoon government since last December, when it revealed its signature foreign policy, the Indo-Pacific strategy. It involves expanding Korea’s outside ties alongside the US.

To facilitate that, Yoon is eyeing an April summit with US President Joe Biden in Washington, and a trilateral May gathering with Yoon’s Japanese counterpart on the sidelines of the Group of Seven summit in Japan. Yoon’s national security adviser Kim Sung-han is in Washington for a five-day trip that started Sunday to iron out any last-minute details.

Kim has yet to brief the key topics to discuss, but disarming North Korea and projecting South Korea’s global influence to match its elevated status alongside the US are considered top priorities. Efforts to address the latest US rules on foreign-made electric vehicles and chips are underway as well, Yoon’s officials say. US allies say the rules are discriminatory because foreign EV makers not eligible for US subsidies and chipmakers could forfeit profits after receiving subsidies.