S.Korea, Japan leaders agree to strive for better ties

UN General Assembly South Korea (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The leaders of South Korea and Japan agreed to speed up efforts to repair frayed ties from Japan’s past colonial rule on the Korean peninsula as they held their countries’ first summit talks in nearly three years on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. UN, the two governments announced Thursday. .

The meeting came after Tokyo denied Seoul’s earlier announcement that they had agreed to the summit, in a sign of the delicate nature of their current relations.

During their 30-minute meeting in New York on Wednesday, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida shared the need to improve bilateral relations and agreed to instruct their respective diplomats to step up talks about it, Yoon’s office said in a statement. statement.

Kishida’s office confirmed the meeting at the hotel. A separate statement from Japan’s Foreign Ministry said the two leaders agreed to promote cooperation between the two countries, as well as with the United States. He said the leaders shared the need to restore strong relationships.

Yoon’s office said the two leaders also jointly expressed serious concerns about North Korea’s recent legislation authorizing the preemptive use of nuclear weapons under certain conditions and North Korea’s reported moves to conduct its first nuclear test in five years. . Japan’s Foreign Ministry said Kishida and Yoon agreed to continue to cooperate in their response to North Korea.

Both the South Korean and Japanese governments said Yoon and Kishida agreed to continue communications with each other. But it was not immediately known what meaningful conversation the two leaders might have to address major sticking points in bilateral relations that suffered their biggest setback in recent years when the two countries were ruled by Yoon’s and Kishida’s predecessors.

In 2018, South Korea’s top court ruled that two Japanese companies, Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, must compensate Koreans who were forced to work during Japan’s 1910-45 colonial occupation. The companies and the Japanese government dismissed the rulings, arguing that all compensation issues had already been resolved under a 1965 treaty that normalized bilateral relations and included provision of millions of dollars from Tokyo to Seoul in economic assistance and loans.

The dispute prompted the two governments to downgrade each other’s trade status and Seoul to threaten to abandon an intelligence-sharing deal. Former Korean forced laborers and their supporters, meanwhile, pushed for the forced sale of Japanese companies’ assets in South Korea.

It is unclear whether Wednesday’s summit will lead to progress on the issue, as participants in the court cases argue that Japanese companies must first consent to South Korea’s court rulings if they want to resolve legal disputes.

Strained ties have complicated the United States’ push to bolster its trilateral security alliance with Seoul and Tokyo, two of its key regional allies where it deploys a total of 80,000 troops, to better deal with growing Chinese influence and nuclear threats from Korea. from North.

South Korea and Japan have been seeking better ties since the May inauguration of Yoon, who has publicly called for improved ties with Tokyo and strengthened Seoul-Tokyo-Washington security cooperation in the face of North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal.

But when Yoon’s government last week announced what it called a planned Yoon-Kishida summit in New York, Tokyo officials responded that there was no agreement to hold such a summit.

The Yoon-Kishida meeting was the first summit between the countries since December 2019, when then-South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met in China on the sidelines of a summit. between South Korea, Japan and China.

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Associated Press reporter Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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