Japanese news outlets have expressed expectations that Lee Nak-yon’s election as the new leader of the Democratic Party of Korea will contribute to improving Seoul-Tokyo ties. They imply that the election of Japan-savvy Lee as the new ruling party chief, timed with the resignation of the hard-line Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, could provide momentum for improving relations between South Korea and Japan.
The Asahi Shimbun introduced Lee as a leading presidential contender and Japan-savvy politician. “Lee has strongly solidified his support base within the party ahead of the 2022 presidential election,” Asahi said. “He was a correspondent to Japan, speaks Japanese well, and is known as a prominent figure in the Korean political circle who well understands Japan.”
“When Japan-South Korea relations were at a low point due to the issue over Korean slave laborers (during Japan’s colonial rule), many people in Japan’s political circle had expectations that he might be able to play a role to mend ties,” the Daily Yomiuri reported.
In fact, a member of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and member of the Japan-Korea parliamentarian league in Tokyo recently told The Dong-A Ilbo, “Since Lee has good understanding of Japan, we hope that Lee will pay a role in improving relations.”
Lee visited Japan in his capacity as then Prime Minister to attend the enthronement ceremony for the new Japanese King Naruhito in October last year, and held talks with Prime Minister Abe, reopening dialogue between the two neighbors, according to pundits.