South Korean leader lands in Japan for first visit in 12 years amid China, North Korea concerns


South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol arrived in Japan Thursday for a fence-mending summit, the primary such go to in 12 years as the 2 neighbors search to confront rising threats from North Korea to rising considerations about China.

These shared safety challenges have been on stark show simply hours earlier than the journey when North Korea fired a long-range ballistic missile into the waters off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula – the fourth intercontinental ballistic missile launch in lower than one yr.

Japan’s Chief Cupboard Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno condemned the most recent launch, calling it a “reckless act” that “threatens the peace and safety of our nation, the area, and the worldwide neighborhood.”

The summit between Yoon and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is a vital step to fix frayed ties after a long time of disputes and distrust dogged the 2 essential US allies in Asia.

Yoon’s workplace has hailed it “an essential milestone” within the improvement of bilateral relations.

The 2 East Asian neighbors have an extended historical past of acrimony, relationship again to Japan’s colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula a century in the past.

The 2 normalized relations in 1965, however unresolved historic disputes have continued to fester, specifically over colonial Japan’s use of compelled labor and so-called “consolation ladies” intercourse slaves.

In recent times the usually fraught relations have undermined efforts by the US to current a united entrance towards North Korea – and the rising assertiveness of Beijing.

Now, the area’s two most essential allies for the US seem prepared to show a brand new web page.

A lot of that’s pushed by deepening safety considerations about Pyongyang’s ever extra frequent missile assessments, China’s more and more aggressive navy posturing and tensions throughout the Taiwan Strait – an space each Tokyo and Seoul say is important to their respective safety.

The warming ties are welcome information to Washington which has been pushing the detente.

“Our working collectively not solely on the political entrance, however on the strategic entrance, on the deterrence entrance, is what North Korea is scared about. It’s additionally what China doesn’t wish to see occur,” Rahm Emanuel, US ambassador to Japan, instructed CNN Thursday.

Emanuel stated the US, Japan and South Korea held over 40 trilateral conferences at completely different ranges over the previous yr – greater than the continuing 5 years mixed.

“That familiarity, that institutionalized dialogue and dialog, the constructing of belief, was in all probability the best contribution” to the thawing of ties, he stated.

Earlier than departing for Tokyo, Yoon instructed worldwide media on Wednesday “there may be an growing want for Korea and Japan to cooperate on this time of a polycrisis,” citing escalating North Korean nuclear and missile threats and the disruption of worldwide provide chains.

“We can not afford to waste time whereas leaving strained Korea-Japan relations unattended,” Yoon stated.

Beneath Yoon’s predecessor Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s relationship with Japan was “brazenly combative,” stated Joel Atkinson, a professor specializing in Northeast Asian worldwide politics at Hankuk College of Overseas Research in Seoul.

“So this go to is critical, sending a powerful sign that beneath the Yoon administration, each side at the moment are working way more cooperatively,” Atkinson stated.

The thaw in relations comes after South Korea took a significant step towards resolving a long-running dispute that plunged ties to their lowest level in a long time.

Final week, South Korea introduced it could compensate victims of compelled labor beneath Japan’s occupation from 1910 to 1945 by way of a public basis funded by personal Korean corporations – as a substitute of asking Japanese corporations to contribute to the reparations.

The transfer was welcomed by Japan and hailed by the White Home.

The deal broke a impasse reached in 2018, when South Korea’s Supreme Courtroom ordered two Japanese corporations to compensate 15 plaintiffs who sued them over compelled labor throughout Japan’s colonial rule.

Japan didn’t agree with the South Korean courtroom’s 2018 choice, and no compensation had been paid by Tokyo.

That led to rising tensions between the 2 sides, with Japan proscribing exports of supplies utilized in reminiscence chips, and South Korea scrapping its navy intelligence-sharing settlement with Tokyo in the course of the presidency of Moon.

However the Yoon administration has been striving to enhance relations – even when it means pushing again towards home public strain on contentious, extremely emotional points just like the compensation plan.

Other than the rising North Korean nuclear risk, China seems to have been an enormous consider Yoon’s willingness to face the home backlash over the compensation deal, stated Atkinson, the skilled in Seoul.

“The administration is making the case to the South Korean public that this isn’t nearly Japan, it’s about participating with a wider coalition of liberal democracies,” he stated.

“What South Koreans understand as Beijing’s bullying, smug remedy of their nation, in addition to its crushing of the Hong Kong protests, threats towards Taiwan and so forth, have positively ready the bottom for that.”

Even earlier than the pivotal transfer to settle the historic dispute, Seoul and Tokyo had signaled their willingness to place the previous behind them and foster nearer relations.

On March 1, in a speech commemorating the 104th anniversary of South Korea’s protest motion towards Japan’s colonial occupation, Yoon stated Japan had “remodeled from a militaristic aggressor of the previous right into a associate” that “shares the identical common values.”

Since taking workplace, the 2 leaders have launched into a flurry of diplomatic actions towards mending bilateral ties – and deepening their joint cooperation with Washington.

In September, Yoon and Kishida held the primary summit between the 2 international locations since 2019 in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations Normal Meeting, the place they agreed to enhance relations.

In November, the 2 leaders met Biden in Cambodia at a regional summit.

Nearer alignment among the many US, Japan and South Korea is an alarming improvement to China, which has accused Washington of main a marketing campaign to include and suppress its improvement.

However Emanuel argued it was Beijing’s personal actions that pushed the international locations collectively.

“If China wasn’t in a confrontation with India twice on the border, or the Philippines twice with the coast guard, or capturing missiles into Japan’s (unique financial zone), no person could be like this,” he stated.

“It is a current improvement in response to China’s fixed confrontation with others.”

Beijing is especially anxious in regards to the involvement of South Korea within the Quadrilateral Safety Dialogue – higher generally known as “the Quad” – a casual safety dialogue among the many US, Japan, Australia and India. It views the grouping as a part of Washington’s try to encircle the nation with strategic and navy allies.

Final week, a senior South Korean official stated Seoul plans to “proactively speed up” its participation within the Quad working group.