Seoul, South Korea — The leaders of South Korea and Japan met on Sunday for their second summit in less than two months, as they pushed to heal long-standing historical grievances and strengthen ties before North Korea’s nuclear program and other regional challenges.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida arrived in South Korea on Sunday earlier on a two-day visit, in response to a mid-March trip to Tokyo by South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol. This is the first exchange visit between the leaders of neighboring Asian countries in 12 years.
South Korean media attention on the summit focused on whether Kishida offered a more direct apology for Japan’s colonial rule on the Korean Peninsula during the years 1910-1945. Such comments by Kishida will likely help Yoon win greater support for his efforts to forge stronger ties with Japan and assuage domestic criticism that he has given in to Tokyo without get the corresponding steps.
Before the summit with Yoon, Kishida and his wife, Yuko Kishida, visited the national cemetery in Seoul, where they burned incense and paid their respects in front of a memorial. Buried or honored in the cemetery are mostly those who died during the Korean War, but include those who fought for Korean independence during the Japanese rule. Kishida is the first Japanese leader to visit the place in 12 years.
Kishida then reviewed the Korean military of honor with Yoon at an official welcome ceremony at the office of the South Korean president.
“I hope to have an open exchange of views with President Yoon based on our relationship of trust,” Kishida told reporters before departing for Seoul. “Since March, there have been various levels of communication in areas including finance and defense, and I plan to further develop this ongoing trend.”
Sunday’s summit will focus on North Korea’s nuclear program, economic security and overall relations between South Korea and Japan, and international issues, according to South Korean and Japanese officials. other unspecified.
During their summit in March, Yoon and Kishida agreed to resume leadership visits and other negotiations. In recent weeks, the two countries have also pulled back on economic retaliatory steps they had previously taken against each other in the years before their historic conflict rekindled.
The most recent sticking point in relations between Seoul and Tokyo was a 2018 court ruling in South Korea ordering two Japanese companies to financially compensate some of their elderly Korean former employees for their labor. colonial coercion. The rulings angered Japan, which argued that all compensation issues were resolved when the two countries normalized relations in 1965.
Amid escalating tensions, the two countries later downgraded each other’s trade status, while Seoul also threatened to strengthen a military intelligence-sharing pact. Some activists and residents in South Korea also organized boycott campaigns for Japanese products.
The strained relationship between South Korea and Japan has complicated US efforts to build a stronger regional alliance to better deal with China’s growing influence and threats. North Korean nuclear.
In March, however, Yoon’s conservative government took an important step in mending relationships by announcing it would use local funds to compensate forced labor victims that were not working. does not require Japanese companies to contribute. At the end of March, Yoon went to Tokyo to meet Kishida.
Yoon’s push has sparked a backlash from some forced labor victims and his freelance opponents back home, who have demanded direct compensation from Japanese companies. Yoon defended his decision, saying that more cooperation with Japan is needed to address a range of challenges such as North Korea’s burgeoning nuclear program, increasingly bitter strategic competition between the United States and the United States. and China and global supply chain issues.
In late April, Yoon made a state visit to the United States and agreed with President Joe Biden to strengthen deterrence against North Korea’s nuclear threats. During a joint press conference, Biden thanked Yoon “for your political bravery and personal commitment to diplomacy with Japan.”
“White House officials have expressed disappointment with the cold response from Tokyo to the forced labor compensation agreement and hope that Kishida will use his upcoming visit to South Korea in early May to do more. more,” Victor Cha, senior vice president for Asia and Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote in an analysis published last week.
Yoon, Biden and Kishida are scheduled to hold a trilateral meeting later this month on the sidelines of the G7 meeting in Hiroshima to discuss North Korea, China’s assertiveness and Russia’s war on Ukraine. Yoon is known as one of eight outreach countries.
After the March summit with Yoon, Kishida said he supported the positions of previous Japanese governments, including those made in the landmark 1998 joint statement by Tokyo and Seoul. about improving relations, but did not offer a new apology. In his 1998 statement, then-Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi said that “I feel deeply regretful and apologize from the bottom of my heart” for the colonial regime.
The Japanese government has repeatedly expressed regret or apology for the colonial era. But some Japanese officials and politicians occasionally make comments that allegedly whitewash Tokyo’s acts of wartime aggression, prompting Seoul to urge Tokyo to issue a new, more sincere apology. .
When asked if he discussed forced labor victims with Yoon, Kishida said in the pre-departure comment: “We will candidly exchange our views on this matter. “
Seoul and Tokyo have a host of other sensitive historical and territorial disputes, mainly related to Japanese colonization. As a reminder of the delicate nature of their relationship, diplomats between the two countries last week bitterly argued over a South Korean lawmaker’s visit to disputed islands in the South China Sea. between the two countries. Earlier, Seoul protested Kishida’s offering of a religious offering to a temple in Tokyo that Seoul considers a symbol of Japan’s wartime aggression. __
Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi of Tokyo contributed to this report.