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ROK-Japan rapprochement is built on shaky ground of US-brokered expediency: China Daily editorial

chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-03-19 18:24

Republic of Korea President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida shake hands at a joint news conference at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo, Japan March 16, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

Thursday's meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Republic of Korea President Yoon Suk-yeol in Tokyo was the first in 12 years between the leaders of the two countries on the bilateral level. It was perceived as signifying a big step toward rapprochement between the two estranged neighbors, one that could not have been made without the inducement of the United States.

The outcome of the meeting seems to be that the two countries are ready to set aside their disputes, both old and new. They not only agreed to take steps to resolve a long-running trade dispute and resume regular visits by their leaders, but also pledged to stand together with the US in coping with "the nuclear threat" from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and other "regional security challenges".

Two major disputes between the two East Asian neighbors appear to have been resolved, with Japan agreeing to lift restrictions on exports of semiconductor materials to the ROK and the Yoon government contentiously proposing that those used as forced labor during Japan's occupation of the country will be paid compensation through an existing public foundation funded by private-sector companies rather than by Japan. But without Washington pulling the strings, the reconciliation between Tokyo and Seoul would have been unthinkable.

By pressing Tokyo and Seoul to resolve their differences, Washington is prompting both to devote their resources and energy to its "Indo-Pacific strategy".

Washington not only wants Seoul and Tokyo to be part of the so-called chip alliance which it is trying to piece together to exclude the Chinese mainland from the semiconductor supply chain, but also expects the two allies to dance to its tune each time it stokes geopolitical tensions and fuels skirmishes with China over a wide range of issues.

The quarreling between the US' two allies in East Asia has not only been a prominent fissure in the US' alliance network, it has even undercut efforts to realize the US' strategic intentions. Washington has thus been pressuring the two countries to kiss and make up, as if Seoul's differences with Tokyo on historical issues were merely heat-of-the-moment spats.

It is hard to tell how long the rapport between the two neighbors will last since it is built on the flimsy ground prepared by the US. Both Japan and the ROK have close economic and trade ties with China, and jumping on the US bandwagon of containing China will only jeopardize those ties.

As a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry urged, Japan and the ROK should avoid working with the US to create "closed and exclusive cliques" and instead work with China to maintain stable and unimpeded supply chains, which would be to the benefit of themselves and the region as a whole.

To really develop normal state-to-state relations with its Asian neighbors that can stand the test of time, Japan should reflect on its history of aggression with sincerity, so that it can handle the historical issues in an honest and responsible manner.

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