New Analysis

After a 12-year hiatus in reciprocal visits between the leaders of South Korea and Japan, the recent visit to Japan by South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol was seen as an ice-breaking trip.

A political analyst told The Epoch Times that Japan and South Korea had achieved an “epoch-making reconciliation” and created a “mini-NATO” in Asia by strengthening ties as a democratic alliance amid threats from China, North Korea, and Russia.

Yoon met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at a summit in Tokyo on March 16, where both promised to turn the page on years of animosity over their countries’ complex, shared history.

Yoon became the first South Korean president to visit Japan under bilateral arrangements in 12 years. At the summit, the two leaders said they would develop bilateral relations and pursue common interests in security, economy, and global agenda.

The two sides did not issue a joint declaration but agreed in their respective communiqués to stress the importance of improving ties. In a communiqué, Yoon said the two countries agreed to restore bilateral relations without delay to minimize the losses suffered by their citizens due to the ongoing tensions between them.

In the respective communiqué, Kishida said that he and Yoon agreed to further develop bilateral relations and that Yoon’s visit is a big step toward normalizing relations between the two countries.

Yoon also said that both sides agreed that South Korea, the United States, and Japan must work closely to deal with the North Korean nuclear threat. And the two sides also agreed to resume “shuttle diplomacy” of regular visits between the two heads of state.

Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry announced on March 16 that it would lift restrictions on exports of key semiconductor materials to South Korea. In response, Seoul said it would withdraw a complaint it filed with the World Trade Organization over the Japanese restrictions.

Significant Shift of Attitude on Historical Disputes

The two countries’ relations have been hampered by historical disputes, including the forced labor of Koreans at Japanese companies during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of Korea and the exploitation of Korean women in Japanese military-run brothels.

Epoch Times Photo
South Korean former “comfort women” Kim Bok-Dong (L) and Gil Won-Ok (R), who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese troops during World War II, attend a protest with other supporters to demand Tokyo’s apology for forcing women into military brothels during World War II outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul on Aug. 12, 2015. (Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images)

In 2018, the South Korean Supreme Court ruled in favor of compensation by Japanese companies that benefitted from forced labor. However, Japan argued that all compensation issues had been resolved under a 1965 treaty between the two nations.

Before Yoon visited Japan, South Korea’s government said on March 6 that it would use local funds to compensate victims of forced labor instead of pushing Japanese companies to pay compensation. The move was a significant change from the country’s hard-line attitude, demanding that Japanese companies take full responsibility for compensation.

A ‘Mini-NATO’ in Asia

Chen Pokong, a U.S.-based Chinese author, political commentator, and Epoch Times contributor, said the strengthening relations between South Korea and Japan is an “epoch-making reconciliation.” The democratic alliance between the two would create a “mini-NATO” in Asia.

Chen said in his YouTube commentary program that Japan and South Korea are both military allies of the United States and have extensive ties with India, Australia, and Taiwan—all of them are now seamlessly connected.

“South Korea has been struggling with historical disputes with Japan due to intense feelings of hate stirred up by left-wing political parties in the country. Due to strong nationalism [in both nations], South Korea has been anti-Japanese and Japanese society discriminates against Koreans, leaving both sides very unhappy,” Chen said.

“However, South Korea has finally decided to move on, not only because it is threatened by North Korea, but also by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Russia.

“The CCP initially thought there was room for them to exploit between Japan and South Korea, but South Korea has now learned that the CCP cannot be trusted,” he added.

“The reconciliation between Japan and South Korea is in stark contrast to the recent strengthening of relations between China, Russia, and Iran to form an axis of evil.”

North Korea Fires Missile 

North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), particularly the Hwasong-17, into the East Sea of Korea on March 16, just hours before Yoon landed in Japan for the summit.

North Korea Koreas Tensions
A test-fire of a Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) at an undisclosed location in North Korea on March 24, 2022. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

The South Korean military revealed that North Korea launched the missile 2 hours and 40 minutes before Yoon’s departure to Japan, according to The Dong-A Ilbo. The missile flew in a northeasterly direction for more than an hour, traveling a distance of about 621 miles, and landed in the eastern waters bordering China and Russia.

Japan’s defense ministry also reported that the missile flew at a maximum altitude of about 3,700 miles and landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone after 70 minutes of flight.

The CCP’s Actions Led to a South Korea-Japan Reconciliation

Wang He, a U.S.-based China expert and political analyst, said that one of the driving factors behind the reconciliation between South Korea and Japan is the CCP’s wolf-warrior diplomacy.

He told The Epoch Times on March 17 that “the U.S., Japan, and South Korea are in a trilateral alliance, which the CCP is trying to break up. Beijing manipulates the Korean peninsula by playing a double act with North Korea. This action resulted in a massive national security threat to South Korea, and under such circumstances, South Korea had no choice but to deploy THAAD, which displeased the CCP.”

THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) is a U.S.-designed and manufactured anti-missile system installed in South Korea between 2016 and 2017 as a bulwark against a potential North Korean missile attack.

But Beijing has insisted that the deployment of THAAD affects China’s security and has since adopted a series of countermeasures against South Korea.

Wang said the CCP has been making a lot of noise since the introduction of THAAD, but it has not addressed the threat posed by North Korea to South Korea.

“The South Korean president at the time was Moon Jae-in, a leftist who was completely in line with the Chinese Communist Party and very weak toward North Korea,” Wang said.

“After the conservative Yoon came to power, he recognized the plight of Korea, so he had to make significant adjustments and changes to the country’s situation, the first of which was to revitalize the U.S.-South Korea alliance and move it from a bilateral alliance to a global one.

“The second step is to reconcile with Japan. China is a nuclear-armed country, and North Korea is also developing nuclear weapons. At this point, nuclear weapons pose a huge threat to Japan and South Korea, a reality that cannot be ignored. In this case, South Korea’s main enemy is not Japan but the communist regimes of China and North Korea. They are the real threats.”

Formation of ‘Mini-NATO’ Compelled by the CCP

Wang said the CCP’s actions compelled Japan and South Korea to create the “mini-NATO” in Asia.

He said the United States joined Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan last year to form a quadrilateral chip alliance. At the time, South Korea remained hesitant to pick a side as it depended on China economically and the United States for security.

“The CCP’s backhanded support for North Korea and Russia and its ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy has pushed South Korea toward joining a U.S.-led alliance and compelled it to reconcile with Japan, accelerating the forming of a trilateral alliance,” Wang said.

“The war between Russia and Ukraine was also a catalyst. In the past, people thought that war was a distant future, but since Putin suddenly decided to invade Ukraine, people realized anything could happen and nothing is impossible. And to some, Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping are even more frightening than Putin.”

In a press conference on Feb. 24, Kishida said, “Today’s Ukraine may be tomorrow’s East Asia.”

“That is to say, [Kishida] and Yoon have reached a consensus on this,” Wang said.

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