S.Korea 'sleepwalks' to US' lullaby as Yoon is criticized for speech on national independence movement day
Published: Mar 02, 2023 10:06 PM

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yoel speaks during a ceremony to commemorate the 104th anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement.Photo: VCG

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks during a ceremony to commemorate the 104th anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement.Photo: VCG

South Korea should avoid sleepwalking in its diplomatic policies and serving as a pawn of the US, Chinese experts warned, as President Yoon Suk-yeol faces a backlash from the domestic public after he said that Japan is "a partner" in regional economic and security affairs during a speech to commemorate the 104th anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement.

Without urging Japan to apologize to or compensate war victims, Yoon said that "Japan has transformed from a militaristic aggressor of the past into a partner that shares the same universal values" a century after the March First Independence Movement, according to a full text of the speech released by the Yonhap News Agency on Wednesday.

Yoon noted that "trilateral cooperation among the Republic of Korea, the United States and Japan has become more important than ever to overcome security crises including North Korea's growing nuclear threats and the global polycrisis."

It is rare for a South Korean president to use such fawning words toward Japan on the day. It has been interpreted as a gesture to mend ties with Japan by some US and Japanese media, according to experts. 

Making a goodwill gesture to Japan and advocating Seoul-Tokyo-Washington security cooperation on the March 1 Movement anniversary day raises eyebrows, as the day marks South Korean people's brave, unyielding, resistance spirit. 

It is the day marking national humiliation, according to Lü Chao, an expert on the Korean Peninsula issue at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences.

The speech is the latest reflection that the Yoon administration has been hypnotized and entered a sleepwalking state in its diplomatic policies, according to analysts.

South Korea used to pay attention to keeping a balance between China and the US, and that strategy brought many benefits.

In the past three decades since the two countries established diplomatic ties, bilateral trade increased by 72 times. In 2021, the value exceeded $360 billion.

South Korea should be an important player in the complex situation in Northeast Asia. Hope it can walk in a more stable fashion and not turn itself into a pawn of the US, observers stressed.

Soon after the speech was delivered, some 200 civic activists gathered near the Japanese Embassy in Seoul on Wednesday, urging Yoon to keep his promise of resolving historic disputes with the neighboring country, including the one over sexual slavery during Japan's 1910-45 rule of the Korean Peninsula.

The Korean Peninsula was colonized by Imperial Japan from 1910 to 1945. During the nationwide independence movement on March 1, 1919, about 7,500 Koreans were killed and some 50,000 arrested under the brutal crackdown of Japan. 

Millions of South Korean people gather on that day every year to look back at history and honor those who fought for independence, while urging the Japanese government to apologize to and compensate forced laborers and women sexually enslaved by the Japanese military during World War II on the peninsula.