Recently, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol met Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo – the first such meeting in 12 years. During this summit, both the countries agreed to resume regular visits between their leaders and take steps to resolve a trade dispute.


What are the issues between Japan and South Korea?

  • Colonisation of Korean Peninsula by Japan —
      • Japan effectively colonised the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945, in a regime that imposed Japanese names and language on Koreans.
      • During this period, Japan conscripted many into forced labor or forced prostitution in military brothels.
      • Japan paid $800 million in reparations to South Korea’s military-run government in 1965, but this money was never distributed to victims.
      • Recently, Seoul has offered Tokyo concessions on South Korean demands for compensation over wartime forced labor.
      • However, it remains to be seen whether the South Korean public will accept reconciliation.
  • Longstanding territorial dispute —
      • The two sides also have a longstanding territorial dispute over a group of islands controlled by South Korea and claimed by Japan.
      • Regular visits between top leaders of both the countries were ended in 2012 after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited the disputed islands.
  • Escalation of tensions in recent years —
      • Tensions escalated in the past 10 years as conservative Japanese governments moved to rearm the country while stepping up attempts to whitewash Japan’s wartime atrocities.
      • In 2018 South Korea’s Supreme Court ordered Japan’s Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to compensate forced labour victims.
      • In 2019, Japan placed export controls on chemicals used to make semiconductors and displays used in smartphones and other high-tech devices.


Significance of this summit

  • Shared security concerns in the region —
      • Improved ties between South Korea and Japan could pave the way for the two U.S. allies to cooperate more closely on shared security concerns related to China and North Korea.
      • Japan increasingly bolstered defence ties with the U.K., Australia, India and the Philippines.
      • Hence, an improved relation between Japan and South Korea will further increase the security in the region.
  • For South Korea —
      • South Korea is putting efforts to strengthen alliances to counter North Korea.
        • North Korea has been expanding nuclear-capable missiles and issuing threats of pre-emptive nuclear strikes.
      • For South Korea, stronger economic cooperation with Tokyo has become more crucial in the face of industrial supply chain disruptions and other global challenges.
  • For India —
      • Improved ties between Japan and South Korea could potentially benefit India in various ways, especially in terms of economic and strategic relations.
        • Japan and South Korea are two of India’s largest trading partners in Asia.
        • Both Japan and South Korea have significant technological expertise, and India has been trying to develop its technology sector as part of its “Make in India” campaign.
        • From a strategic standpoint, Japan and South Korea are important partners for India in the Asia-Pacific region.