South Korea, Japan leaders agree to strive to improve ties

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SEOUL, South Korea (TBEN) – The leaders of South Korea and Japan agreed to accelerate their efforts to restore ties severed over past colonial rule of the Korean peninsula as they hold the first summit talks of their country in nearly three years on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, both governments announced on Thursday.

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

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 close talks. , Yoon’s office said in a statement.

Kishida’s office confirmed the hotel meeting. A separate statement from Japan’s foreign ministry said the two leaders agreed to promote cooperation between the two countries and with the United States. It said the leaders shared the need to restore healthy relationships.

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Yoon’s office said the two leaders also jointly expressed serious concerns about North Korea’s recent legislation allowing the preventive use of nuclear weapons under certain circumstances and the North’s reported steps to conduct its first nuclear test in five years. Japan’s foreign ministry said Kishida and Yoon agreed to cooperate further in their response to North Korea.

Both the South Korean and Japanese governments said Yoon and Kishida agreed to continue communication between them. But it was not immediately apparent how meaningful conversation the two leaders could have to address key bottlenecks in bilateral ties that had suffered their greatest setback in recent years when the two countries were governed by Yoon and Kishida’s predecessors.

In 2018, South Korea’s highest court ruled that two Japanese companies – Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries – should compensate Koreans who had been forced to work in Japan during the colonial occupation of 1910-1945. The companies and the Japanese government rejected the rulings, arguing that all compensation issues had already been settled under a 1965 treaty that normalized bilateral ties and included the provision of millions of dollars to Seoul in economic aid and loans from Tokyo.

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The dispute prompted the two governments to lower each other’s trade status, and Seoul threatened to cancel an intelligence-sharing agreement. For their part, the former Korean forced laborers and their supporters pushed for the forced sale of assets of the Japanese companies in South Korea.

It is unclear whether Wednesday’s summit would bring any progress in this area, as participants in the lawsuits argue that Japanese companies must first agree to the rulings of South Korean courts if they are to resolve the legal disputes.

The tense ties have hampered pressure from the US to strengthen its trilateral security alliance with Seoul and Tokyo — two of its key regional allies to which it deploys a total of 80,000 troops — to better deal with increasing Chinese influence and North Korean nuclear power. threats.

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South Korea and Japan have been seeking closer ties since Yoon’s inauguration in May, which publicly calls for better ties with Tokyo and enhanced Seoul-Tokyo-Washington security cooperation in the face of a growing North Korean nuclear arsenal.

But when Yoon’s government announced what it called a planned Yoon-Kishida summit in New York last week, Tokyo officials replied that there was no agreement to hold that 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 South Korea-Japan summit. and China.

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The Bharat Express News writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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