The presidents of Japan and South Korea met on Thursday for a highly anticipated meeting in which they attempted to tackle a number of issues that had been straining their relationship, including a trade dispute between the two countries.
The Prime Minister of Japan, Fumio Kishida, and the President of South Korea, Yoon Suk Yeol, are scheduled to meet in Tokyo later in the day in an effort to resolve historical differences and expeditiously reestablish economic and security links between their countries. The firing of a missile by North Korea and interactions with vessels belonging to Japan and China in waters that are the subject of a territorial dispute earlier on Thursday highlight the stakes involved for both countries.
Lee Chang-yang, the Minister of Trade for South Korea, stated that following discussions this week, Japan agreed to ease export limitations on South Korea. If the curbs are removed, South Korea would withdraw its complaint that it filed with the World Trade Organization.
During the talks, the Japanese Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry stated that Japan acknowledged improvement in South Korea’s export controls. Furthermore, the ministry stated that as a result of Seoul’s decision to drop the WTO case, Japan decided to drop restrictions against South Korea and restore the country to the status it had before July 2019.
After both countries downgraded the other’s trade status in 2019, Lee’s ministry stated that the countries will continue to talk about restoring each other to favoured trade status.
Fluorinated polyimides, used in organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screens for televisions and smartphones, as well as photoresist and hydrogen fluoride, all of which are utilised in the manufacturing of semiconductors, were included in the scope of Japanese export regulations.
The two countries, which have frequently been at war with one another throughout their histories, are attempting to forge a united front with their common ally, the United States, spurred by shared fears about a more strong China and a North Korea that is increasingly unruly. Their summit takes place at a time when a string of dramatic incidents highlights the way in which Northeast Asia is separating into factions.
NORTH KOREA WELCOMES SUMMIT WITH MISSILE TEST
The launch of a missile by North Korea early on Thursday morning, shortly before Yoon left for Tokyo, could provide Yoon and Kishida with additional impetus to draw their countries closer diplomatically. The intercontinental ballistic missile was sent into open waters off the coast of Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido after it was launched on a very steep trajectory to avoid hitting any land.
The nuclear test comes after a year in which North Korea has upped its nuclear threats. It is likely designed to send a message both about the summit and about simultaneous joint military drills featuring the United States, which the isolated country regards as being geared against it.
In reference to the launch of the missile, Kishida stated, “The peace and stability in the region are crucial for the region, and we must further improve cooperation among friends and like-minded countries.”
Hirokazu Matsuno, the Chief Cabinet Secretary, stated that Japan wishes to reaffirm cooperation with South Korea and the United States in response to the missile threats posed by North Korea during the summit.
In a written response given on Wednesday to questions from international media outlets like The Associated Press, Yoon stated that the strained relations between Korea and Japan need to be repaired as soon as feasible. “I am of the opinion that we need to put a stop to the vicious cycle of mutual animosity and collaborate in order to look out for the shared interests of our two countries.”
REGION IN FLUX AS WASHINGTON, BEIJING TUSSLE FOR INFLUENCE
As a result of feuding over historical issues, the United States has been hampered in its efforts to strengthen its alliances in Asia in order to better deal with the nuclear threats posed by North Korea and the rise of China. As a result, Washington will welcome improved relations between Japan and South Korea.
The territorial dispute between China and Japan over a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea reached a fever pitch on Thursday. Both countries accused the other of invading their respective maritime territories after Chinese coast guard vessels entered the waters surrounding a group of islands that Japan controls and refers to as the Senkakus. China also claims these islands and refers to them as the Diaoyu Islands. They are located to the north of Taiwan, which also lays claim to them as part of its territory.
The summit comes on the heels of a string of Chinese diplomatic victories in areas that have historically been viewed as being under the sway of the United States more heavily. Honduras made the announcement on Wednesday that it would end its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan in favour of China, marking progress in Beijing’s efforts to isolate the autonomously governed island. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and Iran made the announcement last week that they had reached a surprise agreement to renew their diplomatic ties, which was brokered by China.
In addition, efforts are being made by the United States to strengthen regional alliances. It would appear that efforts were made by the United States government to bring about today’s summit, and on Thursday, they began conducting joint anti-submarine warfare manoeuvres with Canada, Japan, South Korea, and India.
CONCESSIONS ARE BEING OFFERED BY SOUTH KOREA IN AN EFFORT TO MOVE PAST HISTORY.
The first summit between the two countries to take place since 2011 will take place in Japan, and the primary focus of attention will be on how Kishida reacts to Yoon’s plan for the fund, which represents a significant concession on the part of Seoul, as well as whether or not and when they will resume defence dialogues and regular visits by the leaders.
According to information provided by Kishida’s office, following the conclusion of the summit, Kishida and Yoon are scheduled to have supper together before engaging in informal discussions. According to sources in the media, Kishida will host a dinner consisting of two rounds. The first round will consist of “sukiyaki,” which is a beef stew. The second round will consist of “omu-rice,” which is rice covered with omelette. This is apparently Yoon’s favourite meal.
The Japanese colonisation of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 until 1945, Japanese atrocities committed during World War II (including the forced prostitution of “comfort women” for Japanese soldiers), and territorial disputes over a cluster of islands have been the source of tension between Japan and South Korea for a very long time.
With an order by South Korea’s Supreme Court in 2018 requiring two Japanese corporations, Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, to compensate some of its former Korean employees for forced labour during World War II, relations between the two countries deteriorated significantly.
Japan has asserted that all compensation concerns were resolved by a treaty in 1965 that restored bilateral ties and was followed by $800 million in economic aid and loans from Tokyo to Seoul. The treaty took place during the height of the Japanese occupation of Korea.
The disagreements over the past spread into the areas of trade and defence. Before Japan started imposing limitations in 2019, the two nations came to an agreement that they would negotiate to restore their trade relations to the status quo.
Keidanren, also known as the Japan Business Federation, is a strong Japanese business lobby that made the announcement on Thursday that it and its counterpart in South Korea had reached an agreement to establish a pair of private funds for bilateral projects such as youth exchanges.
On Friday, a dozen business leaders travelling with Yoon are scheduled to meet their equivalents in the Japanese business community.