March 10, 2023 13:24
President Yoon Suk-yeol travels to Japan for a two-day visit on March 16 to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, the first time in four years that a South Korean president sets foot in the neighboring country. Yoon recently decided to enlist Korean businesses to compensate victims of wartime forced labor under Japanese rule, and to restore regular "shuttle diplomacy" between the two countries that was halted due to historical and territorial disputes 12 years ago.
The idea of making South Korean businesses that benefited from lump sum reparations under the 1965 normalization treaty pay compensation to the forced labor victims faces considerable opposition at home. But bilateral relations cannot be left to fester because cooperation is growing ever more essential as the North Korean nuclear threat escalates, China throws its weight around in the region and supply chains are being realigned. That is why U.S. President Joe Biden and UN Secretary-General António Guterres as well as the leaders of Australia, Canada, Germany, the EU and the U.K. have welcomed Yoon's proposal. The American Chamber of Commerce here has even promised to contribute to the force-labor compensation fund, and Japanese companies may chip in voluntarily.
Politicians and activists in both countries have been stirring ancient hatred for political gain. But exchanges between ordinary people are booming. One out of every three tourists in Japan so far this year have been Korean, while the Japanese animated movie "Slam Dunk" is a huge success here and Korean pop stars top the Japanese music charts.
If Yoon visits Tokyo even at the risk of political damage at home is to succeed, he must be given a warm welcome there. Kishida should do more than just pledge to maintain the joint declaration of 1998 by President Kim Dae-jung and Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, where Japan voiced remorse for its wartime atrocities, and once again make a heartfelt apology for its wrongdoings. Surely it is up to the victim to decide when no further apology is necessary, not the perpetrator. The ball that determines the future of bilateral relations is now in Japan's court.
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