On March 6, the South Korean government announced a compensation plan for Korean victims of forced labor by Japanese companies during World War II. The Japanese government welcomed the proposal and invited South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol to visit Japan in mid-March for a summit meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. President Joe Biden also said that this marks a new chapter of collaboration and partnership between two of America’s closest allies in Asia.
The announced plan was for South Korea to use local funds to compensate victims of forced labor instead of pushing Japanese companies to pay compensation. In 2018, the South Korean Supreme Court ruled in favor of compensation by Japanese companies that benefited from forced labor. However, Japan insisted that all compensation issues had already been fully resolved based on international law in accordance with the 1965 treaty between the two countries. The relationship between South Korea and Japan had deteriorated since.
Japan’s Nikkei News reported on March 6 that the historic policy change by South Korea in the compensation case is related to the Russia-Ukraine War, the deterioration of U.S.-China relations, and the security situation in East Asia.
“South Korea can work together with its neighbor Japan, which shares the common values of liberal democracy, a market economy, rule of law, and human rights, for the mutual benefit of peace and prosperity in the region and the world,” said South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin.
On the same day, Yoon said that his government released its position on the forced labor claims against Japan in the face of many challenges in order to promote better relations between the two countries.
Revival of the Trilateral Anti-Communist Bloc
The Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yoshimasa Hayashi, also responded to the proposal, saying, “We welcome the measures announced by the South Korean government today to restore healthy relations between Japan and South Korea.”
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken also praised the two countries for their courage to resolve their issues and move forward to better relations.
Current affairs commentator Shi Shan told The Epoch Times on March 7 that better relations between Japan and South Korea signal a revival of the trilateral alliance between the United States, Japan, and South Korea to counter the threat of an increasingly belligerent communist China. The previous South Korean administration had weakened ties between South Korea and Japan by revisiting the historical controversy between the two countries.
Restoring Japan-South Korea relations to counter threats from China, North Korea
After his election in 2022, Yoon signaled his wish to improve the relationship between Japan and South Korea. A Nikkei News report on March 6 suggested that Japan had noticed South Korea raising alerts on aggression from China and North Korea, prompting former Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso to visit South Korea in November 2022 and meet with Yoon to test his determination to improve relations between the two countries.
At that time, Yoon told Aso: “I wish to improve South Korea-Japan relations even if my approval rate drops by 10 percent. I believe that resolving the problems as soon as possible will benefit the future of South Korea in the long term.”
On March 1, President Yoon Suk-yeol, in a ceremony to commemorate South Korea’s independence from Japanese rule, changed the tone from previous South Korean presidents who have demanded an apology from Japan on this day for the comfort women incident, and instead of asking for an apology, signaled a willingness to work with Japan.
“Today, Japan has transformed from a militaristic colonizing power in the past to South Korea’s important regional partner that shares the same values and can work together on the issues of security, trade, and global affairs,” he said in his speech.
The current South Korean President believes that in the context of the current geopolitical shuffle in Northeast Asia, it is important to change the previous strategy of maintaining a balance between the United States and China and to join the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific strategy.
He stressed in his speech, “In order to confront the security challenges, including the growing nuclear threat from North Korea and other complex global crises, trilateral cooperation between South Korea, the U.S., and Japan has become more important than ever.”