Thursday, March 30, 2023

Japan and South Korea celebrate the spring of their relationship after a ‘too long winter’

Fumio Kishida couldn’t resist the sakura metaphor. Pointing to the beginning of flowering this week in Tokyo of the famous Japanese cherry trees with delicate pale flowers, the Japanese Prime Minister explained to the South Korean President this Thursday evening that he saw in this blossoming the sign of a renewal of Japanese-Korean relations after ‘too long a winter’. “I am delighted with this opportunity to open the new chapter of a bilateral relationship looking to the future,” insisted the Japanese conservative leader, in reference to the multiple historical disputes that poison exchanges between the two nations.

Despite many common strategic interests, such as responses to the rise of China and the Korean nuclear threat, the two major Asian allies of the United States have so far failed to build a stable and solid cooperation in terms of defense or economic security. Regularly, they fall out over issues of memory or territorial disputes, linked, for the most part, to Japan’s colonial rule on the Korean peninsula between 1910 and 1945. The two countries had thus no longer organized a major bilateral summit in Japan. since 2011.

United States pressure

Under pressure from Washington, the two leaders promised each other this Thursday to try to turn the page. Last week, they even managed to close one of the disputes that paralyzed their exchanges. South Korea has announced that it will itself manage a compensation fund for Korean victims of ‘forced labor’ carried out during the war in Japanese companies. Tokyo refusing to take charge of this compensation which, according to him, would have been resolved in the 1960s.

Reconciled, for a time at least, on this issue, Tokyo and Seoul promised on Thursday to put an end to the various retaliatory procedures that they had imposed on each other in recent years. The Japanese executive will abandon the restrictions on exports of advanced Japanese products, such as fluoropolymers, reserve polymers and hydrogen fluoride, which it had put in place at the end of the 2000s to penalize in particular Korean semiconductor producers. In exchange, Seoul abandons the complaint filed, on this measure, against Japan before the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The two nations also announced that their employers’ federations would jointly create two ‘future partnership’ funds to encourage exchanges on energy security or global supply chains. ‘The need for our two countries to cooperate has increased following the Covid-19 epidemic but also with the intensification of competition between the United States and China and the global militarization of natural resources’, justified on Thursday Kim Byong-joon, the president of the Federation of Korean Industries.

Through these funds, major companies in both nations could address delivery restrictions on the multiple components that China is seeking to acquire to expand its semiconductor production. Washington pushing its two allies to deprive Beijing of several crucial high-tech products.

Multiplication of bilateral visits

Referring to the intensification of ‘provocations’ by North Korea, which incidentally fired yet another intercontinental ballistic missile just before the opening of their summit, Fumio Kishida and Yoon Suk-yeol promised to resume a regular dialogue on the defense issues and to normalize the sharing of military intelligence, also disrupted during their recent diplomatic bickering. The two leaders should even meet several times in the coming weeks.

If he did not mention it, this Thursday, Fumio Kishida would consider inviting his Korean counterpart to the G7 summit to be held in May in Hiroshima. He could also travel quickly to Seoul for a second global warming summit proving that Tokyo believes, this time, in real reconciliation. In the past, Korean conservative governments have attempted other rapprochements with Tokyo, but the regular return to power in Seoul, through democratic alternation, of the much more ‘anti-Japanese’ left has often frozen bilateral relations. . ‘This time we are starting from scratch and we have a little more time’, Japanese Senator Rui Matsukawa, who notes that President Yoon is in power for another 4 years. ‘We must therefore prove that we can develop good relations before a possible alternation in Korea,’ insists the parliamentarian, who entered politics after a career as a diplomat.


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