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Political divide intensifies in S. Korea over Yoon-Kishida summit


SEOUL, March 18 (Yonhap) — Political strife escalated Saturday over the recent South Korea-Japan summit, as the liberal opposition took to the streets blasting President Yoon Suk Yeol for cozying up to Tokyo and looking past historical disputes on wartime forced labor.

Yoon held a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo on Thursday to mend ties strained by historical disputes stemming from Japan’s colonization of the Korean Peninsula from 1910-45.

Earlier this month, South Korea announced its plan to compensate the victims of wartime forced labor through a foundation with donations from domestic companies and not the accused Japanese firms, a move opposed by the victims, opposition parties and activists.

During his trip to Japan, Yoon said South Korea has no plans to seek reimbursement from Japan after compensating the victims.

Lee Jae-myung (C, front), leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, and other participants chant slogans during a rally in Seoul on March 18, 2023, denouncing President Yoon Suk Yeol's March 16 summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. (Yonhap)

Lee Jae-myung (C, front), leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, and other participants chant slogans during a rally in Seoul on March 18, 2023, denouncing President Yoon Suk Yeol’s March 16 summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. (Yonhap)

On Saturday, the presidential office hailed the summit as a success, saying it has “provided a turning point in improving the bilateral relations that had reached their worst point ever.”

The first bilateral summit between the two neighbors in 12 years has “expanded the scope of cooperation to economic security, such as stabilizing supply chains, and promoting key cutting-edge technology, while working to restore the existing cooperative channels” with Tokyo, Yoon’s office said in a press release.

However, Lee Jae-myung, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP), harshly criticized Yoon for turning his back on public opinion and “eventually choosing to become a servant of Japan.”

“President Yoon went (to Japan) with boxes of gifts and came back not even empty-handed but with a bunch of bills to pay,” he said at a rally in Seoul protesting against the recent summit.

About 3,000 people, including members of opposition political parties and progressive civic groups, participated in the demonstration in front of Seoul City Hall.

Lee slammed Yoon’s “humiliating attitude” toward Japan and stressed that the victims’ right to claim compensation is a basic human right that cannot be infringed upon.

The opposition DP also denounced Yoon for quoting Okakura Kakuzo, a Japanese scholar also known as Okakura Tenshin who supported Tokyo’s colonial rule of South Korea, during his speech at Keio University in Tokyo.

During a written press briefing, DP spokesperson An Ho-young said the scholar had claimed South Korea was originally Japanese territory.

“President Yoon’s humiliating diplomacy with Japan is now beyond pro-Japanese diplomacy, and we are left with no choice but to call it submissive diplomacy,” he said.

The ruling People Power Party (PPP) defended the summit results as having resumed “shuttle diplomacy” and “opening a new era of future-oriented cooperation.”

“South Korea and Japan have been reborn as partner countries that share universal values and cooperate in security, and an economic and global agenda,” a spokesperson for the PPP said.
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