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Yoon, Kishida receive JFK award for mending stalled ties

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Sunday were honored with the special International Profile in Courage Award from the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation for their efforts in improving relations between the countries, despite historical issues and domestic opposition.

“I am honored to receive this year’s “Profile in Courage Award,” a symbol of John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier,” Yoon said in a prerecorded acceptance speech.

“I know that this award is a reminder of my solemn duty -- a profound sense of responsibility placed upon the Republic of Korea, the United States and Japan to promote freedom and prosperity around the world by standing together in solidarity,” he added, using the formal name of South Korea.

Yoon began working toward rapprochement with Japan after he took office in May 2022. He was the first South Korean leader in 12 years to visit Tokyo in March this year, following Seoul’s controversial decision to compensate wartime forced labor victims without contributions from Japanese firms.

Kishida reciprocated by visiting South Korea for a summit with Yoon in May, opening a new era of bilateral ties strained over historical disputes in a decade.

The foundation said on its website that the leaders’ decision to mend ties by leaving the past behind was for “a more hopeful future” and has “set the stage” for trilateral cooperation with the US. The two met US President Joe Biden at Camp David in Maryland in August, which reaffirmed “the progress made between two of America’s closest allies,” it added.

The award is granted to politicians who have shown courageous leadership. Other major recipients include Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in 2022 for acting to protect democracy and former US President Barack Obama for his enduring commitment to democratic ideals in 2017.

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