Kishida has agreed with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol to cooperate in various science and technology-related sectors as well as semiconductors at a summit meeting held in Seoul on May 7. The South Korean leader also expressed his hope for the two nations' future-oriented cooperation rather than being stuck in the past.
The Korean peninsula was under the colonial rule of the Japanese empire between 1910 and 1945 and some 6.5 million Koreans were forced to work at Japanese wartime brothels at the frontlines in Southeast Asian countries and war machine factories and mines in Japan. Since the end of World War II, South Koreans have consistently demanded their neighboring country properly apologize for their wartime atrocities and provide compensation for the victims of forced labor.
On May 8, the Embassy of Japan in Seoul held a meeting at Lotte Hotel in central Seoul. After the meeting, the Korea Enterprises Federation's president Son Kyung-sik told reporters that all participants agreed that South Korea's semiconductor manufacturers should cooperate with Japanese equipment and material industries. However, there was no specific discussion regarding the cooperation methods. Kim Yoon, the chairman of Samyang, a food and chemical conglomerate in South Korea, joined the discussion. Kim is also in charge of the Korea-Japan Economic Association.
During the summit meeting on May 7, Kishida and Yoon reached a consensus to establish a semiconductor supply chain by strengthening cooperation between South Korean semiconductor manufacturers and Japanese businesses that oversee chip materials, components, and equipment. Because of Tokyo's trade restrictions in 2019 on key materials for electronic parts and products, South Korean semiconductor and display businesses were cornered with no key materials to manufacture their products. Japan's move was regarded as a retaliatory action over a decision by South Korea's Supreme Court in 2018 that ordered Japan's Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. to pay 100 million won ($75,545) each to four Korean victims of forced labor.
South Korean civic movement groups had also demanded an apology for Japan's colonization era, but Tokyo insisted colonial-era issues were settled in a 1965 agreement that restored diplomatic ties with the payment of $500 million. Along with the forced labor issues, civic groups have asked Tokyo to apologize for Japan's wartime sex slavery known as "comfort women." According to some historians, up to 200,000 comfort women, mostly from Korea, were forced to work for Imperial Japan's troops in frontline brothels.
Meanwhile, South Korea accelerated the localization of key materials and decided to inject six trillion won for six years to reduce the technological gap with Japan. In November 2021, a state research institute called "the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI)" succeeded in the development and commercialization of new photoresist material that can be cured at a low temperature. A photoresist is a light-sensitive material mainly used in the production of liquid crystal display (LCD) and organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display panels. South Korea had been heavily dependent on Japan for photoresists, which require top-notch techniques that involve high temperatures and high pressure.
About 11 months after taking office, President Yoon's administration overturned the Supreme Court's ruling on March 6 by assigning the Foundation for Victims of Forced Mobilization by Imperial Japan (FOMO), operated by the interior ministry, to become the third-party compensator. Instead of having Japanese corporates responsible for forced labor providing compensation for the victims, the Yoon administration said it would have South Korean companies pay the compensation fee.
The South Korean government's friendly stance towards Japan continued in a summit meeting in Tokyo in March 2023 where the two leaders reached an agreement on resuming "shuttle diplomacy," a diplomatic action in which international leaders frequently visit each other's country to strengthen diplomatic relations. Kishida visited Seoul 52 days after the summit meeting in Tokyo. At the Seoul summit meeting, the prime minister said he personally feels heartbroken for Korean victims of forced labor during the Japanese colonial rule era.
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