SEOUL — South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said on Tuesday he would order officials to begin procedures that would return Japan to its “white list” of countries with fast-track trade status after a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida last week.
Yoon announced the decision at a cabinet meeting, saying South Korea and Japan should make efforts to remove obstacles that hinder developing bilateral ties.
“I will preemptively order our trade minister today to begin necessary legal procedures to have Japan back on our white list,” Yoon told the meeting, which was televised live. “I’m sure Japan will respond if South Korea first starts removing the obstacles .”
South Korea and Japan removed each other from the list in 2019 amid a decades-old row over a 2018 South Korean court order for Japanese companies to compensate forced laborers during Japan’s 1910-45 occupation of Korea.
Tokyo criticized the ruling, saying the issue was resolved under a 1965 treaty that normalized relations, and the strained ties fanned concerns over US-led efforts to bolster cooperation to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.
Yoon, who took office in May, has vowed to mend the bilateral ties and visited Tokyo last week for the first time in 12 years as a South Korean leader.
Yoon is pushing to resolve the forced labor feud through a
Unveiled this month under which a public foundation, funded by South Korean companies, would pay compensation.
The plan was welcomed in Tokyo but faced a backlash from some victims and South Korean opposition lawmakers, who accused Yoon of capitulating to Tokyo and inviting Japanese troops back to the Korean peninsula.
Yoon said that some people would seek political gain by fueling “hostile nationalism and anti-Japan sentiment,” without naming them, but that it was irresponsible to do so as the president.
Kishida told him at the summit that he would uphold Japan’s past apologies for wartime atrocities, including a 1998 declaration focusing on colonial rule, Yoon said.
“It’s time for South Korea and Japan to go beyond the past,” Yoon said. “The relationship is not a zero-sum one where one side gains and the other side loses as much. It can and must be a win-win. “
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Soo-hyang Choi; Additional reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Tom Hogue and Gerry Doyle)
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