South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will seek to overcome disputes over history and quickly restore security and economic ties when they meet in Japan on Thursday for the first summit between the two countries in more than a decade.
Japan’s invitation to visit Yun followed South Korea’s announcement that it would set up a local compensation fund for victims of forced Korean labor by Japanese companies during the war, which would not require Japanese investment.
The summit underscores their shared sense of urgency to form a united front on North Korea and China with their mutual ally, the United States.
Hours before Yun left for Tokyo, North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile that landed in open waters off the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. The launch was seen as a protest by the North over the summit and ongoing exercises between the US and South Korean militaries.
The launch of the missile could increase the momentum of rapprochement between Tokyo and Seoul.
“Regional peace and stability are important for the region, and we must further strengthen cooperation between allies and like-minded countries,” Kishida said, referring to the missile launch.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said Japan wants to reaffirm cooperation with Seoul and Washington at the summit in response to North Korea’s missile threats.
In a written response to questions from foreign media, including The Associated Press, on Wednesday, Yoon said there was no time to waste in leaving the strained Korea-Japan relationship out of the spotlight. “I believe we should end the vicious cycle of mutual hostility and work together to seek the common interests of our two countries.”
Better Japan-South Korea relations are needed as a dispute over historical issues has undermined US efforts to strengthen its alliances in Asia to better counter North Korea’s nuclear threats and China’s rise.
The focus of the two countries’ first summit in Japan since 2011 is how Kishida responds to Yun’s plan for the fund, a breakthrough concession by Seoul, and if or when they can resume defense dialogues and regular leader visits. .
Kishida and Yun are scheduled to have dinner together after their summit and then hold informal talks, according to Kishida’s office. Media reports said Kishida will serve a two-part dinner: sukiyaki beef stew for the first round, then omu-brice, or omelette rice, reportedly Yun’s favorite dish at another restaurant.
Japan and South Korea have long had disputes over Japanese colonization of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945 and World War II atrocities that included the forced prostitution of “comfort women” for Japanese soldiers and territorial disputes over a group of islands.
Ties weakened after South Korea’s Supreme Court in 2018 ordered two Japanese companies, Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, to compensate their former Korean employees for forced labor during World War II.
Japan maintains that all reparations issues are settled by a 1965 treaty that regulated bilateral relations and was accompanied by $800 million in economic aid and loans from Tokyo to Seoul.
Historical disputes spilled over into trade and defense. The two countries have agreed to negotiate returning South Korea’s trading status to one before Japan imposes restrictions in 2019.
On Friday, dozens of South Korean businessmen traveling with Yun are due to meet Japanese counterparts and possibly discuss the creation of a private fund for economic, security and cultural projects.
Associated Press writers Hyunjin Kim and Kim Tong-hyun in Seoul, South Korea contributed to this report.