News ID: 114779
Publish Date : 07 May 2023 - 22:20

Tokyo, Seoul Try to Bury Historical Hatchet, Hail ‘New Future’ for Ties

SEOUL (AFP) – Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Sunday his “heart aches” for Koreans who suffered under colonialism, as Seoul and Tokyo seek a rapid reset of long-strained ties.
Kishida was in Seoul on the first official bilateral visit by a Japanese leader to South Korea in over a decade. He met President Yoon Suk Yeol, who has made improving testy relations with Japan a top priority for his administration.
The East Asian neighbors, both crucial security allies of the United States, have long been at odds over historic issues linked to Japan’s brutal 1910 to 1945 colonial occupation of the Korean peninsula, including sexual slavery and forced labor.
“My heart aches as many people went through a very difficult and sad experience in the harsh environment at that time,” Kishida said, speaking after the summit with Yoon.
Yoon said Kishida’s visit showed “shuttle diplomacy” -- regular mutual visits and high-level talks -- was back on track, after a lengthy pause during a bitter trade spat linked to the forced labor issue.
“Based on the friendship and trust I have with Prime Minister Kishida, I will promote deeper bilateral cooperation toward a new future,” said Yoon, who was in Tokyo in March for a fence-mending visit.
Bilateral ties were torpedoed in 2018, when South Korea’s Supreme Court ordered Japanese firms to compensate the wartime victims of forced labor, enraging Tokyo and triggering an escalating series of tit-for-tat economic measures.
But Yoon, who took office last year, has sought to bury the historical hatchet, earlier announcing a plan to compensate victims without direct involvement from Tokyo -- a move that was unpopular domestically, but helped improve ties with Japan.
“As the South Korean government moves forward... I am touched to see how so many people are opening their hearts to the future while not forgetting the hardships of the past,” Kishida said Sunday.
Experts had widely predicted Tokyo would not offer a new apology, and Kishida stopped short of this, instead reaffirming the “heartfelt apology” made by previous administrations in Tokyo.
During their March summit, Kishida and Yoon agreed to end tit-for-tat trade curbs, with Kishida inviting the South Korean leader to a G7 meeting in Hiroshima this month.
For Yoon, it is long overdue that the two countries “end the vicious cycle of mutual hostility and work together” to improve regional security, he told AFP in March before he flew to Tokyo.