Foreign ministers of Japan, South Korea agree to improve relations

TOKYO – The foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan on Monday reaffirmed the importance of bilateral relations and the trilateral relationship with the United States as they continue their efforts to mend relations amid the war in Ukraine and tensions between the two countries. other global direct.

Park Jin, South Korea’s top diplomat, and his Japanese counterpart Yoshimasa Hayashi agreed to work together on the nuclear threat posed by North Korea and the need to resolve the dispute over Japan’s forced mobilization. Korean workers from colonial times, according to two foreign ministries. .

Relations between the countries were mainly strained because of historical issues, including forced labor leading up to and during the Second World War.

At the heart of the dispute are South Korean court rulings in 2018, which ordered two Japanese companies, Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, to compensate Korean forced laborers. Japanese companies have refused to comply with the rulings, and former workers and their supporters have responded by pushing for the forced sale of Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi’s corporate assets.

The ministers shared the view that the dispute over forced laborers must be resolved soon, the ministry said in a statement. It quoted Mr. Park as saying South Korea would seek to resolve the dispute before the sale of the two Japanese companies is made in South Korea.

According to the Japanese statement, Hayashi told Park that both sides needed to build a constructive relationship on the basis of the normalization of relations in 1965. Tokyo has long insisted that any compensation issues have been resolved. resolved at that time.

Since coming to power in March, South Korea’s new conservative government led by President Yoon Suk Yeol has pushed for improved relations with Japan and enhanced trilateral security cooperation with Washington and Tokyo to better deal with North Korea’s nuclear threats.

At the start of their talk in Tokyo, Park and Hayashi touched elbows and posed for the camera at the official guesthouse as they chatted softly in English. Both attended schools in the US, and Park also studied in Japan.

The first visit by a South Korean foreign minister since November 2019, comes after the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, widely seen as an influential figure in shaping Japan’s foreign policy.

Park expressed condolences over Abe’s death. Park is expected to stay in Japan through Wednesday, and may meet with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Park and Hayashi also met before the inauguration of the President of South Korea in Seoul in May, as well as in Bali, Indonesia, for the Group of 20 meeting earlier this month.

The Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs in July conducted consultations with lawyers and activists representing Korean forced laborers and other experts to gather opinions on how to resolve the issue. dispute.

Aside from their painful histories, the two countries also share a longstanding territorial dispute over islands controlled by Seoul but also claimed by Japan. Tokyo calls them Takeshima and Korea calls them Dokdo.

The administration of President Joe Biden has attempted to bring the two Asian democracies closer together on security and regional issues amid the war in Ukraine and tensions, including threats from Korea and saber from China.

North Korea has ramped up missile and artillery tests this year in what is seen as an attempt to pressure Washington and Seoul to relax international sanctions on Pyongyang.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry said Park also expressed support for Tokyo’s efforts to bring back Japanese abducted by North Korea decades ago.

About 20 years ago, North Korea reversed years of denial and admitted that it had kidnapped Japanese nationals and returned some Japanese nationals. But Japan believes more remains in North Korea.


Kim reports from Seoul, South Korea.


Hyung-jin Kim is on Twitter

Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter

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