South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol of the country's conservative main opposition People Power Party vowed Thursday to build a future-oriented relationship with Japan, its neighbor with which ties have been strained over wartime issues.
"South Korea-Japan relations especially need to focus on finding what kind of future movement would benefit both countries and the people of the two countries," Yoon told reporters in Seoul hours after defeating the ruling Democratic Party's Lee Jae Myung in a tight race, which was confirmed by the National Election Commission.
According to the commission, Yoon received 48.56 percent of the total vote, while 47.83 percent voted for Lee, showing the smallest gap of 0.73 point between two leading candidates in South Korean presidential election history.
Seoul and Tokyo have been at odds due to several issues stemming from Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, including compensation for South Koreans who were forced to work at Japanese companies and military brothels before and during the war.
Bilateral relations especially worsened during the presidency of Moon Jae In as South Korea's Supreme Court ordered Japanese firms in 2018 to pay wartime labor compensation. The rulings angered Tokyo, which claims all of the wartime issues have been settled under a bilateral treaty signed in 1965.
Ties were further strained after Japan strengthened controls on exports to South Korea in 2019. In South Korea, the Japanese move was seen as retaliation against the rulings, and the public moved to boycott Japanese goods.
"During the process of seeking cooperation between South Korea and Japan, it will be needed to investigate the truth of the past and put our heads together over the problems that should be solved," said Yoon, a former top prosecutor and a newcomer to politics.
The president-elect also said he will firmly deal with North Korea but leave the door for inter-Korean dialogue open. In a phone conversation with the U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday morning, the two agreed to meet in the near future to improve the U.S.-South Korea alliance, he added.
Yoon also discussed with Moon how to transfer the administration smoothly during a five-minute phone call, according to a spokeswoman of the presidential office.
"The election race was intense, and the result was very tight, but what is important is to overcome conflicts and achieve unity among South Koreans," Park Kyung Mee quoted Moon as saying.
Yoon is set to take office on May 10, starting his single five-year presidential term.