First step toward thaw

Seoul, Tokyo should untie Gordian knot



The Korea Times Co.


President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida have agreed on the need to mend Seoul-Tokyo ties soured by a dispute over wartime forced labor. The agreement came during their 30-minute one-onone meeting Wednesday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. The meeting, which fell short of a summit, was described as “informal talks” by Yoon’s office. It was held after both sides engaged in a war of nerves over whether to hold such a gathering between Yoon and Kishida. Tokyo had reportedly expressed displeasure at Seoul’s announcement of the meeting before the two countries reached a final agreement on it. Nevertheless, it is meaningful that the leaders met for the first time since December 2019 when then President Moon Jae-in and his counterpart Shinzo Abe had talks during a trilateral summit between South Korea, Japan and China. Yet, Yoon and Kishida still found it difficult to resolve thorny issues regarding the fraught history shared by the two countries. No one expected Yoon and Kishida to cut the diplomatic Gordian knot once and for all during their brief meeting. As a presidential official noted, the two countries have just taken the first step toward restoring ties and working together to cope with issues of mutual concern. In this sense, the meeting itself could raise hopes that Seoul and Tokyo will make sincere efforts to narrow their differences and move forward toward a better future. If both countries resolve their differences over the issue concerning the compensation for surviving Korean victims of forced labor, they can step up cooperation in various fields such as security, the economy, technology and climate change. It is worth noting that Yoon and Kishida shared concerns about North Korea’s nuclear program and its preparation for a seventh nuclear test. In order to forge a future-oriented partnership, Seoul and Tokyo should spare no efforts to find a viable solution to the compensation issue. Yoon is taking a more flexible attitude toward the matter than his predecessor Moon Jae-in, who had taken a hardline stance on the issue against Japan. Now it is the time for Tokyo to change its uncompromising position that Seoul should revoke its top court’s ruling, which states that Japanese firms should pay compensation to the forced labor victims. What’s regrettable is that Japan is still sticking to its argument that all reparation claims stemming from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula were settled under the 1965 basic treaty that normalized relations between the two countries. The Japanese foreign ministry’s press announcement on the Yoon-Kishida meeting implied that nothing has changed on the compensation issue. This is casting a dark cloud over the prospect of settling the issue and looking to the future. We urge Japan to face up to its history squarely and reflect on its wartime atrocities, including sex slavery by its troops.