From May 19 to 21, President Yoon Suk-yeol attended the G7 Summit in Hiroshima. Yoon Suk-yeol is the fourth South Korean leader to attend the G7 leaders’ meeting; this time, he was invited to the summit along with the leaders of Australia, Brazil, the Comoros, the Cook Islands, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam.
Upon his return home, Yoon Suk-yeol met with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on May 21 and with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel on May 22. On the sidelines of the G7 summit, the president of South Korea held summit meetings with 11 foreign counterparts, including the EU leadership.
Yoon had to exert a lot of diplomatic effort on the following fronts during this busy week:
This is how he did it, and we shall look into it. And since there is a lot of material, the analysis will follow in three parts.
The Japanese direction
On May 19, Yoon became the first president of South Korea to meet with the Korean victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima (about 20 victims and their descendants), and said, albeit standard, important words. “When our compatriots fell victim to the bombing, we were a colony, and after liberation, our country was weak and subject to a communist invasion, and in a very difficult state… And so when our compatriots were under such hardship and pain in a foreign land, the Republic of Korea government, the state, were not by your side.
I came here as the president representing the government and the state, and deeply apologize over the fact that your native land could not be with you at the scene of your sorrow and pain, and once again offer my deepest comfort.”
On May 21, the two leaders visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park to pay their respects to the Korean victims of the 1945 atomic bombing with flowers and a minute (10 seconds, to be exact) of silence. Ten South Korean survivors of the atomic bombing also paid tribute to the monument behind the leaders, who then bowed to the survivors.
The cenotaph’s inscription states that “the number of Korean victims, representing 10 percent of Hiroshima’s 200,000 citizen victims (who were killed), is a figure that must not be ignored,” but the Korean Atomic Bomb Victims Association estimates that 50,000 Koreans, including 30,000 deaths, were affected by the atomic bombing.
The cenotaph was installed in 1970 with funds from Koreans living in Japan and was originally located outside the park. In 1999, it was moved to its current location at the request of Korean residents and Japanese civilian groups. Since then, several politicians have visited the monument, including former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in 2010.
Yoon became the first president of the Republic of Korea to pay tribute to fallen Koreans, and Kishida became the second Japanese prime minister to make such a symbolic gesture, after Keizo Obuchi. Besides, it was the first joint visit.
During the closed-door summit that followed, Yoon Suk-yeol said that their joint visit to the memorial was not only a tribute to the Korean victims of the atomic bombing, but also a courageous act by the Japanese prime minister, an expression of his desire to prepare for a peaceful future. This is also important in the context of the fact that Kishida calls Hiroshima his hometown. Kishida was born in Tokyo into a political family, although his ancestors were from Hiroshima, and he began his political career in 1993 as a member of the Japanese House of Representatives, representing Hiroshima’s first district.
Yoon proposed restarting direct flights between South Korea and Japan, including Hiroshima, launching the South Korea-Japan Future Partnership Fund established ahead of their March summit, and strengthening collaboration in supply chains and advanced technology.
Both leaders stressed the importance of a free and open international policy, and agreed to further strengthen trilateral cooperation with the United States “in countering the increased threat of North Korea’s nuclear and missile program.” Yoon and Kishida noted that relations between Seoul and Tokyo are at a turning point in all areas, including foreign policy, security, economics and science, and agreed to also meet at every opportunity and thus continue shuttle diplomacy.
There was no time for more, as the negotiations lasted about 35 minutes: But the summit was the third meeting between Yoon and Kishida in the last three months.
Now about how this part of the visit was evaluated inside and outside the Republic of Korea. As the conservative Chosun Ilbo reported, “The two leaders visited Hiroshima Peace Park to console the souls of the grieving victims. Their visit to the memorial demonstrates a unanimous desire to heal the scars of the past once and for all.”
The Korea Herald also noted that the joint tribute is a step forward toward healing the colonial past, but there is a sad history between the two countries, one as attacker and the other as victim. Until it is fully healed, Seoul and Tokyo have a long way to go, and paying respects at the cenotaph should not be the last step.
The more leftist media also wrote that Yoon and Kishida had taken a meaningful step to resolve historical issues, but eradicating enmity requires a sincere (official, not personal) apology from the Japanese prime minister, and more “active repentance (i.e. compensation).”
The Blitz Three-Party Summit
Another summit of the leaders of the United States, Japan, and South Korea was supposed to be part of the Japanese leg of the president’s visit, although it was questionable. As the US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated on May 17, “if we can find time in the busy schedule of the White House, we will try to hold a three-party meeting,” but no joint documents were expected to be adopted.
In the end, the summit of Biden, Yoon and Kishida took place and was in the nature of a ten-minute demonstrative meeting, the main purpose of which was to demonstrate unity of position and “to bring trilateral cooperation to a new level,” in which:
Hence, the three leaders simply “posed for the camera” by holding a classic “ticking-off event” – shuttle diplomacy made another stitch. For its part, the Japanese pro-North Korean newspaper Choson Sinbo condemned the summit of the leaders of South Korea, the United States and Japan as an attempt to form a trilateral military alliance, saying that the plan to form a trilateral military alliance devised by the three leaders maximizes the risk of war on the Korean Peninsula
North Korean direction
Here it was simple. The G7 summit declared that North Korea will never become a nuclear power under the NPT, and as Russian military expert Vladimir Khrustalev noted, this is “an example of statements that seem to make sense, but are actually meaningless.” The NPT defines a nuclear power as the country that conducted the first full-scale nuclear test before January 1, 1967, making Israel, India, Pakistan, and the DPRK nuclear-weapon possessors, but not nuclear Powers. And not members of the NPT (some did not join, and North Korea legally withdrew under Article X, according to which this is possible in case of a threat of nuclear attack).
In the ROK-EU joint statement, the rhetoric was similar: “We strongly condemn the DPRK’s repeated illegal ballistic missile launches as well as its ongoing nuclear development and references to the possible use of nuclear weapons. The DPRK’s reckless actions pose a serious threat to international and regional peace and security. The DPRK must immediately comply with its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions by abandoning all its nuclear weapons, any other weapons of mass destruction, ballistic missile programs and existing nuclear programs, in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner and cease all related activities.
We reaffirm our commitment to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We call on all UN Members, especially Members of the UN Security Council, to respond in a united and firm manner to the DPRK’s illegal weapons programs by fully implementing all relevant UN Security Council resolutions and urging the DPRK to resume meaningful dialogue. Emphasizing that the path to dialogue remains open, we call on the DPRK to immediately cease all actions that raise military tensions and return to denuclearization talks. To this end, President Michel and President von der Leyen expressed support for the objectives of the ROK’s Audacious Initiative for a denuclearized, peaceful and prosperous Korean Peninsula. The EU supports the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula that is free and at peace…
We express grave concern over violations and abuses of human rights in the DPRK. The DPRK’s use of resources to support its illegal weapons programs exacerbates the humanitarian situation of its population. We reaffirm that human rights are an essential element in building sustainable peace and security on the Korean Peninsula. We agree to strengthen bilateral policy consultations as well as cooperation in UN human rights bodies aimed at raising awareness of the situation and convincing the DPRK to respect and fulfill human rights.”
As can be seen, the authors of the statement assembled a “bingo” of clichés about the terrible tyrannical regime and empty statements about complete denuclearization and the possibility of peaceful unification (i.e. the absorption of the North by the South in a color revolution). The text was so empty that the KCNA did not even devote any special material to criticizing it.
But on May 25, 2023, Kang Jin Song, an international affairs analyst, released the following article under the title “The establishment of the US-Japan-South Korea tripartite information-sharing system will lead to tripartite sharing of crisis.” The author noted that nine years ago the United States forced Japan and South Korea to conclude the so-called “Tripartite Information Sharing Agreement” (TISA) which formally systematized trilateral military cooperation. But with the TISA, which allows information to be shared only through the US, and Japan-south Korea General Security of Military Intelligence Agreement (GSOMIA) which allows mutual sharing of information only when requested, it is impossible to continuously monitor and control the behavior of strategic adversaries. Therefore, the US is trying to create a system that allows to co-operate military information in real time – so that there is a real military alliance with a “single nerve center. And it’s clear who this alliance is aimed at, which is why “our country and a just international community will by no means tolerate attempts by the United States and its satellites to form groups against the world, by using powerful force step by step to bring the hostile forces into despair for their erroneous choice.”…
Konstantin Asmolov, PhD in History, leading research fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of China and Modern Asia at the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online journal “New Eastern Outlook.”