Images captured by a robotic probe inside one of the three melted reactors at Japan's wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant showed exposed steel bars in the main supporting structure and parts of its thick external concrete wall missing, triggering concerns about its earthquake resistance in case of another major disaster. The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, has been sending robotic probes inside the Unit 1 primary containment chamber since last year. The new findings released Tuesday were from the latest probe conducted at the end of March. An underwater remotely operated vehicle named ROV-A2 was sent inside the Unit 1 pedestal, a supporting structure right under the core. It came back with images seen for the first time since an earthquake and tsunami crippled the plant 12 years ago. The area inside the pedestal is where traces of the melted fuel can most likely be found. An approximately five-minute video — part of 39-hour-long images captured by the robot — showed that the 120-centimeter (3.9-foot) -thick concrete exterior of the pedestal was significantly damaged near its bottom, exposing the steel reinforcement inside. TEPCO spokesperson Keisuke Matsuo told reporters Tuesday that the steel reinforcement is largely intact but the company plans to further analyze data and images over the next couple of months to find out if and how the reactor's earthquake resistance can be improved. The images of the exposed steel reinforcement have triggered concerns about the reactor's safety. About 880 tons of highly radioactive melted nuclear fuel remain inside the three reactors. Robotic probes have provided some information, but the status of the melted debris is still largely unknown. The amount is about 10 times the damaged fuel that was removed in the cleanup of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in the United States after its 1979 partial core meltdown. Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori urged TEPCO to “swiftly evaluate levels of earthquake resistance and provide information in a way prefectural residents can easily understand and relieve concern of the residents and people around the country.” The video taken by the robot also showed equipment that slipped down as well as other types of debris, possibly nuclear fuel that fell from the core and hardened, piling up as high as 40-50 centimeters (1.3-1.6 feet) from the bottom of the primary containment chamber, Matsuo said. The pile is lower than the mounds seen in images taken in previous internal probes at two other reactors, suggesting that the meltdowns in each reactor may have progressed differently, company officials said. Matsuo said the data collected from the latest probe will help experts come up with methods of removing the debris and analyze the 2011 meltdowns. TEPCO also plans to use the data to create a three-dimensional map of melted fuel and debris details, which would take about a year. Based on data collected from earlier probes and simulations, experts have said most of the melted fuel inside Unit 1 fell to the bottom of the primary containment chamber, but some might have even fallen through into the concrete foundation — a situation that makes the already daunting task of decommissioning extremely difficult. Trial removal of melted debris is expected to begin in Unit 2 later this year after a nearly two-year delay. Spent fuel removal from the Unit 1 reactor's cooling pool is to start in 2027 after a 10-year delay. Once all the spent fuel is removed from the pools, the focus is to turn in 2031 to taking melted debris out of the reactors.
The South Korean, U.S. and Japanese navies began their first anti-submarine drills in six months on Monday to boost their coordination against increasing North Korean missile threats, South Korea’s military said. The two-day drills come as North Korea’s recent unveiling of a type of battlefield nuclear warhead prompted worries the country may conduct first nuclear test since 2017. The maritime exercises in international waters off South Korea’s southern island of Jeju involved the nuclear-powered USS Nimitz aircraft carrier and naval destroyers from South Korea, the U.S. and Japan, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said in a statement. Also Read: Kim wants N. Korea to make more nuclear material for bombs The training was arranged to improve the three countries’ capacities to respond to underwater security threats posed by North Korea’s advancing submarine-launched ballistic missiles and other assets, the statement said. It said the three countries were to detect and track unmanned South Korean and U.S. underwater vehicles posing as enemy submarines and other assets. Submarine-launched missiles by North Korea are serious security threats to the United States and its allies because it’s harder to spot such launches in advance. In recent year, the North has been testing sophisticated underwater-launched ballistic missiles and pushing to build bigger submarines including a nuclear-powered one. Last month, North Korea performed a barrage of missile tests in response to the earlier South Korea-U.S. bilateral military drills. The weapons tested included a nuclear-capable underwater drone and a submarine-launched cruise missile, which suggest North Korea is trying to diversify its kinds of underwater weapons. Also Read: North Korea test-fires 2 more missiles as US sends carrier Photographs in North Korea's state media last week showed about 10 capsule-shaped, red-tipped warheads called “Hwasan (volcano)-31” with different serial numbers. A poster on a nearby wall listed eight kinds of short-range weapons that can carry the “Hwasan-31” warhead. The previous test flights of those weapons show they are capable of striking key targets in South Korea, including U.S. military bases there. Some observers say the warhead’s unveiling may be a prelude to a nuclear test as North Korea's last two tests in 2016 and 2017 followed the disclosures of other warheads. If it does conduct a nuclear test, it would be its seventh detonation overall and the first since September 2017. Foreign experts debate whether North Korea has functioning nuclear-armed missiles. But South Korea’s defense minister, Lee Jong-Sup, recently said the North’s technology to build miniaturized warheads to be mounted on advanced short-range missiles was believed to have made considerable progress. North Korea could carry out new missile tests in response to the South Korea-U.S.-Japan drills because it views such training as a security threat. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called recent South Korea-U.S. exercises “reckless military provocations” that disregarded North Korea's "patience and warning.” In remarks carried in the Defense Ministry statement, Rear Adm. Kim Inho, chief of the South Korean forces involved in the trilateral drills, said “We’ll decisively respond to and neutralize any type of provocation by North Korea.” In addition to anti-submarine drills, the three countries will practice humanitarian search-and-rescue operations, including saving people who fall into the water and treating emergency patients. It would be the three countries’ first such training in seven years, the Defense Ministry statement said.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida began a surprise visit to Ukraine early Tuesday, hours after Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in neighboring Russia for a three-day visit. The dueling summits come as the longtime rivals are on diplomatic offensives. Kishida will meet President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the Ukrainian capital. He will “show respect to the courage and patience of the Ukrainian people who are standing up to defend their homeland under President Zelenskyy’s leadership, and show solidarity and unwavering support for Ukraine as head of Japan and chairman of G-7,” during his visit to Ukraine, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said in announcing his trip to Kyiv. At the talks, Kishida will show his “absolute rejection of Russia’s one-sided change to the status quo by invasion and force, and to affirm his commitment to defend the rules-based international order,” the ministry’s statement said. Russian President Vladimir Putin warmly welcomed Xi to the Kremlin on a visit both nations describe as an opportunity to deepen their “no-limits friendship.” Japanese public television channel NTV showed Kishida riding a train from Poland heading to Kyiv. His surprise trip to Ukraine comes just hours after he met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, and the week after a breakthrough summit with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yoel. In New Delhi, Kishida called for developing and Global South countries to raise their voices to defend the rules-based international order and help stop Russia’s war. Japan, which has territorial disputes over islands with both China and Russia, is particularly concerned about the close relationship between Beijing and Moscow, which have conducted joint military exercises near Japan’s coasts. Kishida, who is to chair the Group of Seven summit in May, is the only G-7 leader who hasn’t visited Ukraine and was under pressure to do so at home. U.S. President Joe Biden took a similar route to visit Kyiv last month, just before the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Due to limitations of Japan’s pacifist constitution, his trip was arranged secretly. Kishida is Japan’s first postwar leader to enter a war zone. Kishida, invited by Zelenskyy in January to visit Kyiv, was also asked before his trip to India about a rumor of his possible trip at the end of March, denied it and said nothing concrete has been decided. Read more: Japan PM Kishida heading to Ukraine for talks with Zelenskyy Japan has joined the United States and European nations in sanctioning Russia over its invasion and providing humanitarian and economic support for Ukraine. Japan was quick to react because it fears the possible impact of a war in East Asia, where China’s military has grown increasingly assertive and has escalated tensions around self-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its territory. Kishida is expected to offer continuing support for Ukraine when he meets with Zelenskyy. Television footage on NTV showed Kishida getting on a train from the Polish station of Przemysl near the border with Ukraine, with a number of officials. Due to its pacifist principles, Japan’s support for Ukraine has also been limited to non-combative military equipment such as helmets, bulletproof vests and drones, and humanitarian supplies including generators. Japan has contributed more than $7 billion to Ukraine, and accepted more than 2,000 displaced Ukrainians and helped them with housing assistance and support for jobs and education, a rare move in a country that is known for its strict immigration policy.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said Tuesday his government will move to restore Japan’s preferential trade status as he pushes to resolve history and trade disputes with Japan despite domestic opposition. In lengthy, televised comments during a Cabinet Council meeting, Yoon defended his moves, saying that leaving ties with Japan as fraught as they are would be neglecting his duty because greater bilateral cooperation is vital to resolve diverse challenges facing Seoul. “I thought it would be like neglecting my duty as president if I had also incited hostile nationalism and anti-Japan sentiments to use them for domestic politics while leaving behind the current, grave international political situation,” Yoon said. He said the need to boost ties with Japan has grown because of North Korea’s advancing nuclear program, the intensifying U.S.-China strategic rivalry and global supply chain challenges. South Korea and Japan have deep economic and cultural ties and are both key U.S. allies that together host about 80,000 U.S. troops. But their relations have often fluctuated mainly due to issues stemming from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. At the center of the recent impasse was the 2018 South Korean court rulings that ordered two Japanese companies to compensate some of their former Korean employees for forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. Japan refused to accept the rulings, saying all compensation issues had already been settled when the two countries normalized ties in 1965. The history disputes spilled over to other issues, with the two countries downgrading each other’s trade status. Japan also tightened controls on exports to South Korea, while Seoul threatened to terminate a military intelligence-sharing pact. After months of negotiations with Japan, Yoon’s government earlier this month announced it would use local funds to compensate the forced laborer victims involved in the 2018 lawsuits without requiring contributions from the Japanese companies. Last week, Yoon traveled to Tokyo for a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, during which they agreed to resume regular visits and economic security talks. Ahead of the summit, the South Korean government said Japan had agreed to lift export controls on South Korea, and that South Korea would also withdraw its complaint to the World Trade Organization once the curbs are removed. They said the two countries would continue talks on restoring each other’s trade status as well. Read more: Japan, South Korea renew ties at Tokyo summit Yoon's push has triggered protests from some of the forced labor victims, their supporters and opposition political parties who have demanded direct compensation from the Japanese companies and a direct apology from Tokyo over the forced labor. A public survey suggested about 60% of Koreans opposed Yoon's measures to resolve the forced labor issue. In his Cabinet Council remarks, Yoon said he will order his trade minister to begin taking legal steps needed to reinclude Japan in a “whitelist” of nations receiving preferential trade status. He said both South Korea and Japan must remove obstacles that hinder the improvement of bilateral ties. “If South Korea preemptively eliminates obstacles, Japan will surely reciprocate,” he said.
Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio on Monday said Bangladesh will soon graduate from being classified as a least developed country, and they have already launched the Joint Study Group on the possibility of an Economic Partnership Agreement with Bangladesh. He said this also reflects the important Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) principle of "excluding no one." The Japanese Prime Minister was delivering a policy speech at the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA). He described Japan's plan to develop a "Free and Open Indo-Pacific." Also Read: Japan PM Kishida to announce new Indo-Pacific plan in India "To achieve this, India is an indispensable partner. I believe that Japan and India are in an extremely unique position in the current international relations and, furthermore, in the history of the world," he said. India is the largest democracy in the world, said the Japanese PM, adding that they have always viewed with great respect the way such a huge and diverse country as India has developed democracy. "Japan, for its part, was the first country in Asia to achieve modernization and embrace democracy," he said. Also Read: 11 Bangladeshi auto mechanics get jobs in Japan "It is fair to say that both countries are naturally receptive to and fully committed to the idea of electing governments through general elections and deciding policies through public debate," said Kishida Fumio. He said Japan and India have a great responsibility for maintaining and strengthening "a free and open international order based on the rule of law." "This year, as Japan holds the G7 presidency and India holds the G20 presidency, my hope is that, through working together with ASEAN and other many countries, we will bring about peace and prosperity to the international community, which faces a time of challenges," he said. The vision for achieving this is FOIP, a "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" based on the rule of law. "I believe that this region will be a "place where freedom and the rule of law are valued, free from force or coercion." The PM said Japan will spare no efforts to cooperate with India for the success of the G20. "I am looking forward to welcoming Prime Minister Modi to Hiroshima in May and visiting India again in September," he said. Prime Minister of Japan Kishida Fumio is paying an official visit to India on 20-21 March.
Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Monday invited his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi for the Group of Seven major industrial nations summit in May and was later expected to announce a new plan for a free and open Indo-Pacific aimed at countering China's growing influence in the region. On his two-day trip to India, Kishida said Modi accepted his invitation to participate in the G-7 summit, which will be held in Japan’s western city of Hiroshima. Kishida held delegation-level talks with Modi to deepen cooperation between Tokyo and New Delhi, while also addressing food security and development financing. Also Read: Hasina, Modi inaugurate ‘Indo-Bangla Friendship Pipeline’ to boost energy cooperation In his media statement, Kishida said he told Modi that at the upcoming G-7 summit he hopes to take up challenges faced by the global community from the viewpoint of upholding the rules-based international order and strengthening partnership with the international community that goes beyond G-7 and includes the Global South. The two leaders also discussed their priorities for their respective presidencies of the G-7 and G-20, Modi said in a speech. Kishida said late Sunday that he will present his new action plan for Japan’s free and open Indo-Pacific vision, a Tokyo-led initiative aimed at curbing China’s growing assertiveness in the region, during his India visit. The plan is expected to include Japan’s support for human development in maritime security, a provision of coast guard patrol boats and equipment and other infrastructure cooperation. Also Read: Bangladesh, Australia discuss Indo-Pacific, IORA, security cooperation India, which is heading this year’s Group of 20 industrial and emerging-market nations, says ties with Japan are key to stability in the region. The two nations, along with the United States and Australia, make up the Indo-Pacific alliance known as the Quad that is countering China’s rising influence in Asia. India is the only Quad member that has not condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It has refrained from taking sides and abstained from voting against Russia at the United Nations or criticizing President Vladimir Putin. Japan, meanwhile, has imposed financial sanctions to isolate Russia, including export controls on high-tech products. In an article for the Indian Express newspaper Monday, Kishida said “the foundation of order in the international community was shaken by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine” and its impact on food access and fertilizer prices were felt by the international community, including in the Indo-Pacific region. “In order to respond effectively to the various challenges that the international community is currently facing, cooperation between the G-7 and the G-20 has greater significance. Such pressing challenges include food security, climate and energy, fair and transparent development finance,” Kishida wrote. India and Japan share strong economic ties. Trade between the two was worth $20.57 billion in fiscal year 2021-2022. The Japanese investments in India touched $32 billion between 2000 and 2019. Japan has also been supporting infrastructure development in India, including a high-speed rail project.
South Korea’s president wants to quickly overcome decades of lingering hostility left over from Japan’s past colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula and forge a united front to meet regional security and economic challenges facing the neighbors. “We cannot afford to waste time while leaving strained Korea-Japan relations unattended,” President Yoon Suk Yeol said in written response to questions posed by several foreign media outlets including The Associated Press. “I believe we must end the vicious cycle of mutual hostility and work together to seek our two countries’ common interests.” Yoon’s comments were provided Wednesday, a day before he travels to Tokyo for a closely watched summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. The focus of attention is whether and what corresponding steps Kishida would take in response to Yoon’s recent plans to use South Korean funds to compensate some of the colonial-era Korean forced laborers without requiring Japanese contributions. Yoon’s push has triggered criticism from some victims and his domestic political rivals, who have called for direct compensation from Japanese companies that employed the forced laborers. But Yoon has defended his decision, saying greater ties with Japan is essential to tackle a slew of foreign policy and economic challenges. Also Read: Japan, S. Korea summit must overcome history to renew ties “There is an increasing need for Korea and Japan to cooperate in this time of a poly-crisis with North Korean nuclear and missile threats escalating and global supply chains being disrupted,” Yoon said. “I am confident that the Japanese government will join us in opening a new chapter of Korea-Japan relations which will go down to history.” Addressing Yoon’s comments, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said later Wednesday that Tokyo seeks to strengthen “strategic cooperation” with South Korea as well as trilaterally with the United States. He said he hopes that there will be “open-hearted exchanges” between the leaders of the two countries. South Korea and Japan, both key U.S. allies and vibrant democracies, are closely linked to each other economically and culturally. But their ties plunged to one of their lowest points in decades after South Korea’s Supreme Court in 2018 ordered two Japanese companies — Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries — to compensate some of their former Korean employees for forced labor during the 1910-45 colonial rule. Japan has insisted all compensation issues were already settled by a 1965 treaty that normalized bilateral ties and was accompanied by $800 million in economic aid and loan from Tokyo to Seoul. The history disputes spilled over to other issues, with Tokyo placing export controls and South Korea threatening to terminate a military intelligence-sharing pact. Also Read: North Korea launches 2 missiles to sea as allies hold drills The feuding undermined a U.S. push to reinforce its alliances in Asia to better cope with North Korean nuclear threats and a Chinese rise. Since taking office last May, Yoon, a conservative, has been focusing on repairing ties with Japan, boosting the military alliance with the United States and building a stronger trilateral Seoul-Washington-Tokyo security cooperation. Yoon says those steps were needed to deter North Korea, whose nuclear-capable missiles put both South Korea and Japan within striking distance. Tensions with North Korea have further intensified recently, with the North test-firing a spate of missiles in protest of the South Korean-U.S. military drills that it views as an invasion rehearsal. “As North Korea’s nuclear development seriously threatens peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and beyond, it is more important than ever that the international community works on a concerted deterrence and responses – this includes the ROK-U.S. alliance and ROK-U.S.-Japan security cooperation,” Yoon said, invoking South Korea’s formal name. After Yoon’s government announced it would use money raised domestically to compensate the former forced laborers who won damages in the 2018 rulings, U.S. President Joe Biden hailed the plan as a major step toward enhancing the partnership between two of Washington’s closest allies. While experts say that North Korea’s aggressive weapons testing activities are aimed forcing the United States to accept it as a nuclear power and relaxing international sanctions, Yoon said Kim would fail to achieve this goal. “Since the complete denuclearization of North Korea is the clear and unchanging goal of the international community, the Republic of Korea will never acknowledge North Korea as a nuclear state under any circumstances,” Yoon said. He said Seoul, Washington and Tokyo are “continuously taking strong diplomatic, economic and military measures to show that the international community’s commitment to denuclearizing North Korea is stronger than North Korea’s commitment to the development of nuclear weapons.” Yoon also called on North Korea to halt its “reckless” nuclear program and take steps to address the suffering of its people. He said South Korea is willing to provide humanitarian assistance to North Korean people, citing an assessment “that food shortages there have grown worse with some regions seeing people dying of hunger recently.” Yoon expressed optimism that the thawing of diplomatic relations between South Korea and Japan would also expand economic cooperation between the technology-driven countries, which he said would be crucial to address industrial supply chain vulnerabilities and other global challenges. “If Korea-Japan relations are normalized, I expect to see acceleration of strategic cooperation, such as technological partnerships, joint research & development and the expansion of mutual investments in various fields, such as semiconductors, space and bio-health including materials, parts and equipment," he said. Yoon said expanded cooperation between South Korea and Japan – both semiconductor powerhouses – will contribute “greatly” in improving the resilience in global supply chains, which have been rattled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and COVID-19 and could be reshaped by an intensifying U.S.-China rivalry. Yoon also said South Korea and Japan while pursuing stronger bilateral ties should also seek to advance their economic relations with China in a “stable manner.” A government-affiliated foundation in South Korea will likely handle reparations to forced labor victims with money contributed by steel giant POSCO and other local companies that benefited from the 1965 accord. POSCO said Wednesday that it decided to newly contribute 4 billion won ($3 million) to the foundation in addition to the 6 billion won ($4.6 million) that it has previously contributed to the foundation. South Korean officials say they don't expect Nippon Steel or Mitsubishi to immediately contribute to the South Korean funds for the forced labor victims. They say they expect the Japanese companies to participate in a separate possible fund aimed at facilitating cultural exchanges and other cooperation between the two countries.
South Korean and Japanese leaders will meet in Tokyo this week, hoping to resume regular visits after a gap of over a decade and overcome resentments that date back more than 100 years. The two major Asian economies and United States allies face increasing need to cooperate on challenges posed by China and North Korea, but previous rounds of diplomacy have foundered on unresolved issues from Japan’s 35-year occupation of the Korean Peninsula. Seoul has offered Tokyo concessions on South Korean court orders for compensation over wartime forced labor, but it remains to be seen whether the South Korean public will accept reconciliation. The AP explains what's kept the two neighbors apart, what they're expected to talk about, and why it matters for the region. WHAT ARE THE ISSUES? Japan effectively colonized the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945, in a regime that imposed Japanese names and language on Koreans and conscripted many into forced labor or forced prostitution in military brothels before and during World War II. Japan gave $800 million to South Korea’s military-backed government under a 1965 accord to normalize relations, which were mainly used on economic development projects driven by major South Korean companies. A semi-government fund set up by Tokyo offered compensation to former “comfort women” when the government apologized in 1995, but many South Koreans believe that the Japanese government must take more direct responsibility for the occupation. Also Read: Japan marks 12 years from tsunami and nuclear disaster The two sides also have a longstanding territorial dispute over a group of islands controlled by South Korea but claimed by Japan. Seoul and Tokyo have attempted to establish better ties before. In 2004, leaders began regular visits, but these ended in 2012 after then-South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited the disputed islands. Tensions escalated over the past 10 years as conservative Japanese governments moved to rearm the country while stepping up attempts to whitewash Japan’s wartime atrocities, and in 2018 South Korea's Supreme Court ordered Japan’s Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to compensate forced labor victims. In 2019, Japan, in apparent retaliation, placed export controls against South Korea on chemicals used to make semiconductors and displays used in smartphones and other high-tech devices. Also Read: S. Korea pushes to end Japan disputes over forced laborers WHAT'S EXPECTED AT THE SUMMIT? South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida are to hold a summit and have dinner together during Yoon’s March 16-17 visit. Though leaders have met in multilateral settings, including on the sidelines of a United Nations meeting in New York in September, this is the first formal bilateral summit since a meeting in Seoul in 2015. Kishida is expected to reaffirm Japan’s past expressions of remorse over its wartime actions. Both sides have signaled hopes that this summit will lead to a resumption of regular bilateral visits, although Kishida hasn't yet announced plans for a visit to South Korea. Tokyo is also considering an invitation to Yoon to return to Japan as an observer at the Group of Seven summit Kishida will host in Hiroshima in May. Yoon will be accompanied by high-profile business leaders who are expected to meet their Japanese counterparts. Masakazu Tokura, chair of the Japan Business Federation, said the two sides are considering establishing a separate, private fund to promote bilateral economy, culture and other key areas of cooperation. WHAT'S AT STAKE FOR THE REGION? Improved ties between South Korea and Japan could pave the way for the two U.S. allies to cooperate more closely on shared concerns related to China and North Korea. Washington is eager to get its allies on the same page, and appears to have worked intensively to bring about the summit. U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel said his country and its two allies had about 40 trilateral meetings and he thinks cooperation in the process helped to build up trust. While Japan increasingly bolstered defense ties with the U.K., Australia, India and the Philippines, challenges in Japan-South Korea relations were obvious and their closer relationship “in the larger context of our strategic alignment … is a very big deal.” South Korean officials have denied direct pressure from the Biden administration to resolve the historical discord with Tokyo, but the plan is apparently part of South Korean efforts to strengthen security partnerships to counter North Korea, which has been expanding nuclear-capable missiles and issuing threats of preemptive nuclear strikes. While pushing to expand U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises, the Yoon government has sought Washington’s stronger reassurances to swiftly and decisively use its nuclear weapons to protect its ally from North Korea. Seoul and Tokyo last week also announced plans for talks to restore the country’s trade relations, which could relieve pressure from global high-tech supply chains. South Korean officials say stronger economic cooperation with Tokyo has become more crucial in the face of industrial supply chain disruptions and other global challenges. “The need to strengthen South Korea-Japan cooperation has never been greater in the era of complex crises, brought by uncertainties in global geopolitics, North Korea’s continued nuclear and missile testing activity and the disruption in industrial supply chains,” South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Cho Hyundong said last week. HOW ARE JAPAN AND SOUTH KOREA ADDRESSING HISTORY? Experts say that the two countries will have to find an accommodation on history if this round of diplomacy is to achieve lasting results. Choi Eun-mi, an analyst at South Korea’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said the summit wouldn’t change South Korean public opinion if it’s all about security and economic matters. “There must be some sort of expression of apologies and self-reflection by Japan, in particular by the Japanese government and the defendant companies,” she said. Seoul made a significant concession prior to the summit, announcing plans to use local funds to pay out compensation from the 2018 court order. South Korea will offer reparations to the plaintiffs through an existing state-run foundation that will raise the money from South Korean companies that benefited from the 1965 accord. It's a major relief for Tokyo, which fears that further South Korean court orders could impose massive compensation demands on hundreds of other Japanese companies that used wartime forced labor. The plan has met fierce opposition from surviving forced labor victims, their supporters, and opposition politicians, who have demanded compensation directly from Japanese companies and a fresh apology from Tokyo. Only three of 15 forced labor victims who won damages in 2018 are still alive, and all three refused to accept South Korean payments in written notes submitted to the foundation, said their lawyer, Lim Jae-sung. South Korean officials say the country's law allows for third-party reimbursements, and that they will do their best to persuade the victims to accept the payments. South Korean officials say they do not expect Nippon Steel or Mitsubishi to immediately contribute to funds for the forced labor victims, and Japan’s Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said it’s up to Japanese companies to decide whether to contribute to the funds voluntarily. The future of the deal may also rest on whether Kishida’s government can win over South Korean public opinion. South Korean officials express hope that Yoon brings back a “sincere response” from Tokyo as bilateral relations improve.
Japan on Saturday marked the 12th anniversary of the massive earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster with a minute of silence, as concerns grew ahead of the planned release of the treated radioactive water from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant and the government's return to nuclear energy. The 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that ravaged large parts of Japan's northeastern coast on March 11, 2011, left more than 22,000 people dead, including about 3,700 whose subsequent deaths were linked to the disaster. A moment of silence was observed nationwide at 2:46 p.m., the moment the earthquake struck. Some residents in the tsunami-hit northern prefectures of Iwate and Miyagi walked down to the coast to pray for their loved ones and the 2,519 whose remains were never found. In Tomioka, one of the Fukushima towns where initial searches had to be abandoned due to radiation, firefighters and police use sticks and a hoe to rake through the coastline looking for the possible remains of the victims or their belongings. Also Read: S. Korea pushes to end Japan disputes over forced laborers At an elementary school in Sendai, in Miyagi prefecture north of Fukushima, participants released hundreds of colorful balloons in memory of the lives lost. In Tokyo, dozens of people gathered at an anniversary event in a downtown park, and anti-nuclear activists staged a rally. The earthquake and tsunami that slammed into the coastal Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant destroyed its power and cooling functions, triggering meltdowns in three of its six reactors. They spewed massive amounts of radiation that caused tens of thousands of residents to evacuate. Over 160,000 people had left at one point, and about 30,000 are still unable to return due to long-term radiation effects or health concerns. Many of the evacuees have already resettled elsewhere, and most affected towns have seen significant population declines over the past decade. At a ceremony, Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori said decontamination and reconstruction had made progress, but “we still face many difficult problems.” He said many people were still leaving and the prefecture was burdened with the plant cleanup and rumors about the effects of the upcoming release of the treated water. The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, and the government are making final preparations to release into the sea more than 1.3 million tons of treated radioactive water, beginning in coming months. Also Read: What’s happening at Fukushima plant 12 years after meltdown? The government says the controlled release of the water after treatment to safe levels over several decades is safe, but many residents as well as neighbors China and South Korea and Pacific island nations are opposed to it. Fishing communities are particularly concerned about the reputation of local fish and their still recovering business. In his speech last week, Uchibori urged the government to do utmost to prevent negative rumors about the water release from further damaging Fukushima’s image. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida renewed his pledge to support the ongoing reconstruction efforts. “The discharge of the treated water is a step that cannot be delayed,” Kishida told reporters after the ceremony. He repeated an earlier pledge that “a release will not be carried out without understanding of the stakeholders." Kishida's government has reversed a nuclear phase-out policy that was adopted following the 2011 disaster, and instead is pushing a plan to maximize the use of nuclear energy to address energy supply concerns triggered by Russia’s war on Ukraine while meeting decarbonization requirements. Uchibori's goal is to bolster the renewable energy supply to 100% of the Fukushima prefectural needs by 2040. He said last week that while the energy policy is the central government’s mandate, he wants it to remember that Fukushima continues to suffer from the nuclear disaster.
South Korea on Monday announced a contentious plan to raise local civilian funds to compensate Koreans who won damages in lawsuits against Japanese companies that enslaved them during World War II. The plan reflects conservative South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s determination to mend frayed ties with Japan and solidify a trilateral Seoul-Tokyo-Washington security cooperation to better cope with North Korea’s nuclear threats. But it's drawn an immediate backlash from former forced laborer and their supporters, who have demanded direct compensation from the Japanese companies. South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin told a televised news conference the victims would be compensated through a local foundation that would be funded by civilian donations. He said South Korea and Japan were at a “new window of opportunity” to overcome their past conflicts and build future-oriented relations. “And I think this is the last opportunity,” Park said. “If we compare it to a glass of water, (I) think that the glass is more than half full with water. We expect that the glass will be further filled moving forward based on Japan’s sincere response.” Also Read: S. Korea says N. Korea fires missile as allies ready drills Observers had earlier said the foundation would be funded by South Korean companies, which benefited from a 1965 Seoul-Tokyo treaty that normalized their relations. The accord was accompanied by hundreds of millions of dollars in economic aid and loans from Tokyo to Seoul that were used in development projects carried out by major South Korean companies, including POSCO, now a global steel giant. Ties between the U.S. Asian allies have long been complicated by grievances related to Japan’s brutal rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945, when hundreds of thousands of Koreans were mobilized as forced laborers for Japanese companies or sex slaves at Tokyo’s wartime brothels. Their history disputes intensified after South Korea’s Supreme Court in 2018 ordered two Japanese companies --- Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries -- to compensate former Korean forced laborers or their bereaved relatives. Japan, which insists all wartime compensation issues were settled under the 1965 treaty, reacted furiously to the 2018 rulings, placing export controls on chemicals vital to South Korea’s semiconductor industry in 2019, citing the deterioration of bilateral trust. Also Read: S. Korea, US to hold simulated drill on North use of nukes South Korea, then governed by Yoon’s liberal predecessor Moon Jae-in, accused Japan of weaponizing trade and subsequently threatened to terminate a military intelligence-sharing agreement with Tokyo, a major symbol of their three-way security cooperation with Washington. The Seoul-Tokyo feuding complicated U.S. efforts to reinforce its cooperation with its two key Asian allies in the face of confrontations with China and North Korea. Worries about their strained ties have grown as North Korea last year adopted an escalatory nuclear doctrine and test-launched more than 70 missiles – the most-ever for a single year. Since taking office in May last year, Yoon has been seeking to improve ties with Japan and strengthen its military alliance with the United States and a trilateral Seoul-Washington-Tokyo security cooperation. Former forced laborers, their supporters and liberal opposition lawmakers berated the government plan, calling it a diplomatic surrender. Some activists supporting former forced laborers plan to hold rallies later Monday. “Basically, the money of South Korean companies would be used to erase the forced laborers’ rights to receivables,” Lim Jae-sung, a lawyer who represented some of the plaintiffs, wrote on Facebook. “This is an absolute win by Japan, which insists it cannot spend 1 yen on the forced labor issue.”