Yoon tells Japanese lawmakers he opposes politicizing historical issues

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol told Japanese lawmakers on Wednesday that he had no intention of using the war history issues with Japan for domestic political gains, in another sign that the new leader will seek to mend frayed bilateral relations.

“The future matters for relations between nations. I am opposed to the introduction of historical issues into domestic politics,” Yoon said during a meeting with a cross-party group of Japanese lawmakers, according to one of the attendees. .

Members of a cross-party group of Japanese lawmakers (right) and their South Korean counterparts meet in Seoul on May 11, 2022. (Kyodo)

Yoon’s remarks appear intended to dispel perceptions in Japan that South Korean leaders often argue with Tokyo over these issues to divert public attention from domestic issues, especially when they see their popularity waning.

According to Fukushiro Nukaga, who leads the group of lawmakers, Yoon also described South Korea and Japan as “important partners who share democratic values ​​and a market economy”, and said that improving relations would be a “common benefit”.

At Wednesday’s meeting in Seoul, Yoon also said he was ready to resume flights connecting Tokyo’s Haneda Airport and Seoul’s Gimpo Airport. Flights on the route have been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As the leading conservative opposition candidate, Yoon won the presidential election in March by a razor-thin margin with a call for a “future-oriented” approach to relations with Japan.

Nukaga, a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and former finance minister, spoke to reporters after their talks.

Members of his group, which is dedicated to promoting exchanges between the two Asian neighbors, also held talks with their South Korean counterparts earlier on Wednesday and shared hopes that the launch of the new administration will be “a starting point” to a better relationship.

Nukaga told the meeting that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will aim to further promote bilateral exchanges that have been disrupted by the pandemic, and that his group will give “full support” to this goal.

Kim Jin Pyo, who heads the Korea-Japan Parliamentary Union, said he wanted “various issues of concern” between the two sides to be resolved “as if the snow were melting”.

Chung Jin Suk, vice president of South Korea’s National Assembly, proposed at the meeting that lawmakers from the two countries play a football tournament after an election for the House of Councilors in Japan this summer, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 2002 World Cup, which was co-hosted by the two nations.

Issues arising from Japan’s colonial rule from 1910 to 1945 on the Korean Peninsula, such as wartime labor, have long cast a shadow over bilateral relations. Relations were further strained under the administration of Yoon’s predecessor, Moon Jae In, who was in power for five years from 2017.

Japanese lawmakers attended Yoon’s inaugural ceremony on Tuesday, along with Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, who was sent to the event as Kishida’s special envoy.

In a letter delivered to Yoon during his meeting with Hayashi, Kishida called for better bilateral relations and expressed high expectations for Yoon’s leadership, while Yoon expressed hope to meet his Japanese counterpart “at the earliest”. “.

In Japan, Kishida faces pressure from members of his own party who remain skeptical of South Korean promises to seek better relations. They say Japan should not take steps that may be seen as too accommodating before Seoul takes specific steps to mend ties.

Masahisa Sato, head of the PLD’s foreign affairs division, told a party meeting on Wednesday in Tokyo that the government “should wait for South Korea to come up with solutions (for outstanding issues) that are acceptable to Japan”.

“Put aside discussions at a multinational meeting, summit talks should not take place” between Japan and South Korea, Sato said, adding, “We should abandon the illusory idea that relations roses between Japan and South Korea will arrive”.

No face-to-face talks have taken place between the Japanese and South Korean leaders since December 2019.

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