President Yoon Suk Yeol instructed officials to come up with projects aimed at bolstering relations with Japan, ahead of the two-day summit starting Thursday with his Japanese counterpart in Tokyo, The Korea Herald reported. The push for closer ties is meant to foster a “future-oriented Seoul-Tokyo relationship,” Yoon’s office said Monday.
Yoon’s remarks came at a time when South Korea is looking to use the recent thaw in ties not only to build on the momentum for cooperation, but to also strengthen the three-way military coalition of South Korea, the US and Japan, which has been working on North Korea’s denuclearization.
Last week, Seoul and Tokyo put behind their dispute over how to deliver an apology and compensation to Koreans forced to work for Japanese companies during Japan’s 1910-45 colonial occupation of the peninsula. The victims will receive Korean company funds, while the Japanese firms held liable for damages by a 2018 Korean ruling potentially pay into a separate scholarship fund for young Koreans. Japan reaffirmed its 1998 apology for its colonial rule.
“Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida upheld the apology as well and I expect that to take place again at the summit this week,” a senior official at Yoon’s office told reporters. Consultations are underway for the Japanese firms that had refused to recognize the 2018 ruling to take part in the scholarship fund, the official added, highlighting a “forward-looking relationship” for both countries.
Yoon remains unequivocal in ushering in “such a new era” -- a stance that in no way means Seoul will help Tokyo water down its wartime past, according to the official. Critics opposing the settlement have accused the Yoon administration of being overly soft on Japan, because Tokyo did not have to issue a fresh apology for the labor dispute and directly compensate the victims.
Yoon previously called the deal the result of the “resolve on a future-oriented South Korea-Japan relationship” that Seoul needs for bigger support from Tokyo in containing North Korea’s growing nuclear threats. Pyongyang, which fired off a record number of missiles last year, is still continuing its weapon launches, the latest of which took place Sunday, when it tested cruise missiles using a submarine.