By Invitation

An obstacle-strewn path to S. Korea-Japan reconciliation

Yoon Suk-yeol pushing for Korea-Japan reconciliation, but wary Japanese elites are not rushing to embrace him.

(From left) South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during a Nato summit in Spain on June 29, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS
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South Korea's new President Yoon Suk-yeol seems determined to repair his country's relationship with Japan. The Japanese, as well, want a reconciliation. Both countries recognise that they share many common interests. Both are liberal democracies, US allies, advanced economies, resource-poor and highly dependent on international trade, potential targets of North Korean missiles, and worried about Chinese domination. Tokyo, however, is hesitant to meet Mr Yoon halfway. Japanese elites are sceptical that Mr Yoon can deliver a solution they can accept, and unwilling to take a political risk for an uncertain payoff.

Mr Yoon and his top officials have repeatedly said improving relations with Japan is an urgent objective. He calls for a bilateral relationship based on future-oriented cooperation rather than dwelling on acrimonious historical grievances. As a model, he cites the 1998 Japan-Republic of Korea (ROK) declaration of a "Partnership towards the 21st Century".

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