The ball is in Kishida’s court

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The ball is in Kishida’s court

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will pay a visit to Seoul for two days from Sunday to Monday in return for President Yoon Suk Yeol’s visit to Tokyo last month. The two governments have started preparations for the summit between the leaders of the two countries. Kishida’s trip to Seoul will be the first visit by a Japanese prime minister after Shinzo Abe’s visit in February 2018.

Domestic and international political developments have led to the earlier-than-expected return visit by the Japanese prime minister. Kishida has earned confidence in his governance with his approval rating running above 50 percent after his Liberal Democratic Party won the local elections in April. U.S. President Joe Biden’s emphasis of the tripartite cooperation during his meeting with President Yoon in the last week of April also contributed to expediting Kishida’s visit to Seoul.

The Japanese prime minister’s visit carries special meaning as it signifies the official resumption of the “shuttle diplomacy” between leaders of the two countries, which was suspended for 12 years. The two countries’ relations had soured to the worst after the Korea’s Supreme Court ruled in October 2018 in favor of the Korean plaintiffs demanding compensations for their forced and unpaid labor by their Japanese employers during the Pacific War. A mutual relationship can be normalized through Kishida’s return visit to Seoul.

The visit cannot solve all the complicated and multiple issues between the two countries. Still, the visit must not be wasted so that they can act as a turning point in reestablishing their bilateral relationship. To do so, Kishida must convince the Korean people with actions corresponding to Yoon’s amicable gestures to Tokyo.

First of all, the Japanese prime minister should be unequivocal in his apologetic narrative on past issues and towards wartime forced labor victims. He must be reciprocal to Yoon who had offered a solution to the impasse over the top court’s ruling despite political risks at home. Second, Tokyo must expedite the procedures to restore Korea’s status on the white list subject to favors in trade. Any of the remaining stumbling blocks to bilateral ties must be removed fast.

South Korea and Japan share the common danger of North Korean nuclear missile threats. The two countries must strengthen trilateral ties together with the U.S. on top of Washington’s containment over Beijing. Kishida must solve historical issues with his upcoming visit so that Korea, the U.S., and Japanese leaders can move onto economic issues at the Group of Seven summit from May 19 through 21 in Hiroshima. Such moves are strategically important to all three countries.
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