Japan PM makes first bilateral visit to S Korea in 12 years

07 May 2023 12:30pm
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida - Facebook
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida - Facebook

SEOUL, Korea - Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida arrived in South Korea on Sunday for a summit with President Yoon Suk Yeol, marking the full-scale resumption of "shuttle diplomacy" between the two countries' leaders after 12 years.

Kishida's visit comes as bilateral relations have warmed significantly following Seoul's decision in March to compensate Korean victims of Japanese wartime forced labour without contributions from Japanese firms.

Yoon travelled to Tokyo 10 days after the decision was announced and held a summit with Kishida as the first South Korean president to pay a bilateral visit to Japan in 12 years.

Kishida's two-day visit is also the first bilateral visit by a Japanese leader in 12 years, marking the full-scale resumption of "shuttle diplomacy," or regular mutual visits, as agreed between Yoon and Kishida during their summit in Tokyo in March.

Upon arrival, the Japanese prime minister headed to Seoul National Cemetery and paid his respects to Korea's fallen independence fighters and war veterans.

Later in the day, he will hold a summit with Yoon at the presidential office, hold a joint news conference, and then have dinner with Yoon and first lady Kim Keon Hee at the official presidential residence, according to diplomatic sources.

Kishida is accompanied by his wife, Yuko.

The summit will first be held in a small group and then in an expanded format, covering issues such as security, high-tech industries, science and technology, and cooperation on youth and cultural affairs, according to the presidential office.

North Korea will feature high on the agenda as South Korea pushes to strengthen cooperation with Japan and trilaterally with the United States to counter the growing threat posed by North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

Yoon recently returned from a state visit to Washington, where he and US President Joe Biden agreed on a set of measures to support the US "extended deterrence" commitment to defending South Korea with all of its military capabilities, including nuclear weapons.

A joint summit statement noted the two presidents also "emphasised the importance of US-South Korea-Japan trilateral cooperation, guided by shared values, driven by innovation, and committed to shared prosperity and security." Trade and economic issues will likely be high on the agenda as well, given calls for South Korea and Japan to work more closely together to defend their interests in high-tech industries, such as semiconductors and batteries, as the US and the European Union move to protect their own industries.

South Koreans will be watching closely for any discussion of Japan's plan to release contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant crippled by an earthquake and a tsunami in 2011.

South Korea hopes Japan will agree to a joint investigation of the contaminated water in addition to the monitoring currently under way by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The two countries are also in the process of restoring each other as trusted trading partners after having removed each other from their respective "white lists" of nations eligible for preferential export treatment amid the forced labor row in 2019.

The presidential office said the summit is unlikely to produce a joint statement, though the final decision will be made during the talks and the leaders will announce the outcome of the summit at a joint press conference.

South Koreans will be paying keen attention to whether Kishida goes beyond reaffirming the positions of past Japanese governments to issue an apology or express remorse for Tokyo's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

On Monday, Kishida is scheduled to hold meetings with members of a South Korea-Japan parliamentarians' association and chiefs of South Korea's six business lobbies, including SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won, who is now heading the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, according to industry sources.

He will then depart to return to Tokyo. - BERNAMA-YONHAP