Boost for Japan-South Korea ties as Kishida, Yoon vow to resolve historical disputes, security issues

  • Leaders of both nations hold first talks in three years, affirm they will work to reach settlement on issues of forced labourers, comfort women during World War II
  • Analysts welcome warming of ties, but caution leaders may lack political capital to make significant inroads into resolving differences

Bilateral ties between Japan and South Korea took a “small, positive step forward” at the Asean-East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh over the weekend, with the leaders of both nations unanimous in their agreement on an improved working relationship and importance of broader regional security.

The warming of ties between Tokyo and Seoul is to be welcomed as tensions in northeast Asia worsen, analysts say, but caution that a clear demonstration the two nations have put their differences behind them is still some way off, given the lack of statesmanship and political will on both sides. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and President Yoon Suk-yeol both wore broad smiles as they posed for the cameras in the Cambodian capital ahead of the talks on Sunday.

The first summit between leaders of the two nations in three years addressed the ongoing issue of legal cases brought by former forced labourers at Japanese corporations during Tokyo’s colonial rule of the peninsula between 1910 and 1945. Kishida and Yoon affirmed they would work to reach an early settlement of the issue, including discussions through diplomatic exchanges, which Kishida said had been “accelerating”.  They also underlined the importance of ensuring a “free and open” Indo-Pacific, a commitment that Tokyo has long championed and is widely regarded as an effort to balance China’s growing assertiveness in the region, as well as the need to develop “future-oriented” relations.

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ASEAN, Japan, South Korea