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The Prime Minister of Japan and the President of the Republic of Korea met in Tokyo on the 16th to renew their alliance and revitalize relations as both nations continue to prepare for the rising Chinese threat in the Pacific. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and President Yoon Suk Yeol stressed the importance of improved relations just hours after another North Korean missile launch and encounters between Japanese and Chinese vessels in disputed waters. The two promised to resume regular meetings, reversing a suspension that began over twelve years earlier. President Yoon noted the agreement seeks to increase ties in matters of the economy, security, and people-to-people exchange. Just before the summit, South Korean Trade Minister Lee Chang-yang announced that Japan had agreed to lift export controls on South Korea following negotiations, prompting South Korea to withdraw its complaint to the World Trade Organization once the curbs are removed.
President Yoon said the meeting “has special significance as it shows the people of both countries that South Korea-Japan relations are off to a new beginning after being plagued by various issues.” He went on to add, “The ever-escalating threat of North Korea’s nuclear missile program poses a huge threat to peace and stability not only in East Asia but also to the international community. South Korea and Japan need to work closely together and in solidarity to wisely counter the threat.”
The talks came with a degree of controversy, however, as previous meetings were stifled by unresolved issues arising from the various conflicts the two countries have had during the previous century and the Japanese occupation of Korea. In 2018, the South Korean Supreme Court ordered Japanese companies to pay reparations to the victims or their families of the occupation, causing Japan to impose trade sanctions on South Korea soon after. Demonstrations were held in Seoul during the talks, accusing President Yoon of conceding too much and being too soft on Japan. Meanwhile in Japan, many are angered and worried at the Japanese Self Defense Force becoming more aggressive in its training and foreign military exercises, running contrary to the widely held Japanese belief of pacifism following World War II.
The United States seemingly had an extensive role in getting the two nations to meet and repair relations, as the feud over historical issues has undermined the U.S. desire to reinforce its alliances in Asia. Recently, both South Korea and Japan have joined Australia, the U.S., Canada, and India in increasing military drills in the region.
South Korea and Japan were also likely prompted to increase their ties due to the tensions with China and North Korea steadily growing in the region. Territorial disputes between China and Japan continue to cause unrest as the two accuse each other of violating their maritime territories. North Korea continues to fire missiles into the Sea of Japan and off the shores of Korea as the rhetoric continues to rise between Pyongyang and Washington. The summit also follows a series of recent Chinese successes in removing American influence. Honduras announced last week that it would no longer recognize Taiwan in favor of China, while earlier this month Saudi Arabia and Iran announced a surprise agreement to renew diplomatic ties, mediated by China.