TOKYO (AP) – Japan’s government yesterday welcomed the election of a new president in South Korea who supports stronger ties with Washington and Tokyo, as officials and experts expressed hope for an improvement in badly strained relations.
Yoon Suk Yeol, a conservative former top prosecutor and foreign policy neophyte, was elected president on Wednesday to replace outgoing liberal Moon Jae-in, under whose leadership bilateral relations sank to their lowest level in years because of disputes over wartime history.
“Japan-South Korea relations are in a very severe condition, and we cannot leave them as they are,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters yesterday.
“Healthy ties between Japan and South Korea are indispensable for the peace, stability and prosperity of the world,” especially as it faces difficulties such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he said. “Cooperation among Japan, the United States (US) and South Korea is also important.”
Kishida, however, said Japan will stick to its stance that all wartime compensation issues with South Korea were settled by a 1965 treaty, which he said is the basis of friendly and cooperative relations between the two countries. He said it is crucial for South Korea to “keep the promises between the nations”.
“I believe it is important to communicate with the new president and his new administration to restore healthy relations based on Japan’s consistent position,” Kishida said. “I hope to hold talks with the new government as I watch its actions.”
Relations between Tokyo and Seoul deteriorated sharply after South Korean courts ordered Japanese companies to pay reparations to Korean labourers over abuses during World War II, when Korea was a colony of Japan. Another sticking point is Korean “comfort women” who were sexually abused by Japanese troops during the war.