The two leaders, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, met in Tokyo after 12 years for talks that have been hailed as a turning point in their tense relationship. The two countries have decided to put a century of difficult history behind and work together to resolve regional security issues. In an effort to overcome a hard period of history, the Prime Minister of Japan described their meeting as a “big step” towards rebuilding the security and economic connections between the two countries. During a long-awaited summit, the two countries agreed to resume routine bilateral visits and the security conversation that had been put on hold in 2018 in order to resolve problems, making the summit highly significant. An intelligence-sharing agreement known as General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), from which Seoul had threatened to withdraw in 2019, was completely normalized, according to Yoon. A four year trade dispute over several high-tech materials used in semiconductors was also announced to be resolved. Moreover, according to South Korea’s trade ministry, Japan will lift restrictions on its exports to South Korea of vital components for smartphone screens and semiconductors in exchange for Seoul dropping its World Trade Organization (WTO) lawsuit against Tokyo.
There are a number of disputes such as territorial issues, economic rivalry, historical resentments i.e. colonial period from 1910 to 1945, have all contributed to the tensions between the two nations. In past years, efforts were being made by Japan and South-Korea to strengthen diplomatic ties, but many issues remained there that kept dividing the two nations which resulted in high level of tensions. Also, the two nations have been engaged in a contentious dispute regarding forced labor for many years. Yoon has made it obvious that improving relations with Japan is a key goal since his victory last year. Prior to the first formal summit between the two nations, the two leaders previously had side-by-side meetings at multiple diplomatic engagements. A trilateral summit between the leaders of South Korea, Japan and the United States was also conducted in Spain last year on the sidelines of NATO summit.
North-Korea’s Response to Japan-South Korea Summit
The summit between South-Korea and Japan was coincided with U.S. and South-Korea’s military exercises that have previously angered Pyongyang. North Korea has launched several missiles as a response to the drills. Just hours before South Korea’s President was scheduled to fly to Japan for the first summit between the two countries in years, with the situation in nuclear-armed North Korea a primary worry, North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile into its eastern waters. Before the summit Yoon, South- Korea’s President said in an interview, “There is an increasing need for Korea and Japan to cooperate in this time of a poly-crisis with North Korean nuclear and missile threats escalating and global supply chains being disrupted.” According to President’s office, Yoon held an emergency security meeting on the launch before leaving for Tokyo and gave instructions to the South Korean military to continue its joint training exercises with United States’ forces. He asked to conduct the planned joint drills intensively, in order to strengthen security relationship between Seoul, Washington and Tokyo. The President also said that North Korea would pay a clear price for its reckless provocations. The Prime Minister of Japan, however, stated that “We must further strengthen cooperation among the allies and like-minded countries.” He opted not to give remarks on what North-Korea could have wanted to accomplish with the launch.
Since the 2022 elections and taking office, Yoon has consistently worked to restore relations with Japan and has referred to Tokyo as a “partner that shares universal principles with South-Korea.” Additionally, he stated that trilateral collaboration between South Korea, Japan, and the United States “has become more important than ever to overcome the serious nuclear threats posed by North Korea.” The United States has worked to improve relations between South Korea and Japan by mediating issues between the two nations. Because of their strategic importance in the Asia-Pacific region, the United States has an interest in maintaining good relations with South Korea and Japan. The threats from North Korea will continue to hold the trilateral relationship together. The alliance between the South Korea, Japan and the United States will help to deepen and broaden ties as well as advance interests in the Indo-Pacific region.
Research Associate, Pakistan House