SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – The leaders of South Korea and Japan agreed to speed up efforts to repair ties strained by Japan’s past colonial rule on the Korean Peninsula as they held their countries’ first summit in nearly three years. Both governments of the United Nations General Assembly announced this on Thursday.
The meeting came after Seoul denied an earlier announcement that Tokyo had agreed to the summit as a sign of the delicate nature of their current relationship.
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 to that end, Yoon’s office said in a statement. statement
Kishida’s office confirmed the hotel meeting. A separate statement from Japan’s foreign ministry said the two leaders agreed to increase cooperation between the two countries as well as the United States. It said the leaders shared the need to restore good relations.
Yun’s office said the two leaders jointly expressed serious concerns over recent North Korean legislation authorizing the preemptive use of nuclear weapons under certain conditions and North Korea’s reported move to conduct its first nuclear test in five years. Japan’s foreign ministry said Kishida and Yun agreed to further cooperate with North Korea in its response.
Both the South Korean and Japanese governments have said that Yun and Kishida have agreed to continue communication between them. But it was not immediately known how meaningful the two leaders could be to deal with major sticking points in bilateral relations that suffered their biggest setbacks in recent years when the two countries were ruled by Yun and Kishida’s predecessors.
In 2018, South Korea’s top court ruled that two Japanese companies – Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries – must pay compensation to Koreans forced to work during Japan’s 1910-45 colonial occupation. The company and the Japanese government rejected the rulings, arguing that all reparations issues had already been settled under a 1965 treaty that normalized bilateral relations and included the provision of tens of millions of dollars in economic aid and loans to Seoul.
The dispute prompted the two governments to downgrade each other’s trade status and threaten Seoul to abandon an intelligence-sharing agreement. Former Korean forced laborers and their supporters, for their part, pushed for the forced sale of Japanese company assets in South Korea.
It is unclear whether Wednesday’s summit will make progress on the issue as participants in the court case maintain that Japanese companies must first comply with the South Korean court’s ruling if they want to resolve the legal dispute.
Complicating the pressure is the US to strengthen its tripartite security alliance with Seoul and Tokyo – its two main regional allies where it deploys a total of 80,000 troops – to counter growing Chinese influence and the nuclear threat from North Korea.
South Korea and Japan have been seeking better relations since the May inauguration of Yun, who has publicly called for improved ties with Tokyo and a stronger Seoul-Tokyo-Washington security cooperation in the face of North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal.
But when Yun’s government announced last week what it called a planned summit between Yun and Kishida in New York, Tokyo officials responded that there had been no agreement to hold the 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 alongside the South Korea-Japan-China summit.
Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.