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South Korean President Yoon praises a key ‘step forward’ in Japan – World relationsNews WAALI

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SEOUL: South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said on Wednesday that there was increased cooperation with Japan on issues from North Korea to semiconductors, saying it was part of a historic “new chapter” for the two countries.

Yoon will travel to Tokyo on Thursday, his first visit since taking office last year, which follows his controversial move to try to finally settle a bitter historic dispute over Japan’s forced labor during World War II.

Yoon said he was confident his new plan to compensate victims would work, telling the media incl AFP in a written interview that “the Japanese government will join us in opening a new chapter of Korea-Japan relations”.

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Yoon’s plan, unveiled this month, involves compensating Korean victims without Tokyo’s direct involvement, which has angered some victims who say this falls far short of their demand for a full apology and direct compensation from the Japanese companies involved .

“Japan has expressed deep regret and heartfelt apology regarding its past colonial rule through the position of its previous governments,” Yoon said.

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About 780,000 Koreans were conscripted into forced labor by Japan during its colonial rule on the peninsula from 1905 to 1945, according to data from Seoul.

That number does not include Korean women forced into sexual slavery by Japanese soldiers.

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Yoon is keen to put the historic dispute to rest as he seeks closer ties with Tokyo – a key regional ally of Seoul’s security partner Washington – in the face of growing threats from North Korea.


Pyongyang last year declared itself an “irreversible nuclear state”, with leader Kim Jong Un at the start of 2023 calling for an “exponential” increase in weapons production – including tactical nukes.

South Korea “will never recognize North Korea as a nuclear state under any circumstances,” Yoon said in the interview on Wednesday.

He pointed to reports of people starving to death in North Korea – which has been under a self-imposed strict blockade since the start of the Covid pandemic in 2020.

“The North Korean regime could easily solve its food shortage if it injected the money it spends on nuclear and missile development into improving the livelihood of its people,” Yoon said.

South Korea and Japan are increasing defense spending and joint military exercises, which Yoon said are essential for regional and global stability.

“There is a growing need for Korea and Japan to cooperate in this period of crisis-policy with North Korea’s escalating nuclear and missile threats,” Yoon said.

“We cannot afford to waste time leaving strained Korea-Japan relations unattended. I believe we must end the vicious cycle of mutual hostility and work together to seek the common interests of our two countries.”

Trade curbs

But his moves to get closer to Japan have been criticized as “offensive” to victims of forced labor by South Korean activists, and go against some court rulings.

Following the ruling, Japan in 2019 imposed export controls on key industrial materials needed by South Korea’s chip industry and removed the country from its “preferred trading countries” list.

Seoul filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization.

But both now appear to be moving to unwind tit-for-tat trade restrictions.

South Korea said this month it would suspend its WTO complaint over Japan’s export curbs.

“Korea and Japan are key nations in global supply chains such as semiconductor production,” Yoon said.

“Stronger economic cooperation between Korea and Japan is likely to contribute greatly to boosting global supply chains.”