A good start for better relations

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A good start for better relations

President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida had a telephone conversation on Thursday to discuss pending issues between the two countries. The presidential office said that the leaders first discussed a joint response to North Korea’s recent firing of an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), which flew over the Japanese archipelago into the Pacific, and then discussed other issues too. Earlier, U.S. President Joe Biden and Kishida spoke by phone. Given the diplomatic deadlock under the Moon Jae-in administration, Yoon’s dialogue with Kishida just two weeks after their brief meeting last month in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly is a positive sign for a gradual improvement in relations.

The Yoon administration has put top priority on improving the Seoul-Tokyo ties since its start in May. Many areas, including economy and international affairs, require urgent cooperation between the two countries, but the most important is security cooperation after North Korea’s provocations. If North Korean leader Kim Jong-un takes a cue from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threat to use tactical nuclear weapons in the Ukraine war, that can push Northeast Asia into an unprecedented crisis.

Security cooperation between Seoul and Tokyo is needed because Japan serves as a rear base for military reinforcements and logistics support for the USFK and the UN Combined Forces at times of crisis on the Korean Peninsula. After Yoon stressed the importance of protecting people’s lives and safety based on the trilateral security cooperation among South Korea, the U.S. and Japan, Kishida underscored the need for cooperation with Seoul over security issues.

To enable security cooperation between the two countries, they must first recover mutual trust. The Moon administration’s aggressive move to end the General Security of Military Information (Gsomia) should not be repeated this time. If the two governments can consolidate security cooperation gradually, it can help them enhance their relations faster than expected.

On the August 15 Liberation Day and other occasions, Yoon showed the will to improve relations. In a speech at the parliament on Monday, Kishida called Korea an “important country to cooperate with when dealing with diverse issues of the international community.” That’s a meaningful step forward from his earlier address in the Diet in January in which he said he would strongly demand an appropriate response from South Korea.

Both sides still have to tackle the thorny wartime forced labor issue. The administration tries to find reasonable solutions the Japanese government and companies can agree to while respecting the legal rights of the survivors in Korea. We hope the two leaders put an end to the deep-rooted conflict and build their future-oriented relations.
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