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PoliticsSouth Korea

S. Korea, Japan hold talks to improve ties

July 18, 2022

South Korea's foreign minister has visited Japan to discuss cooperation on dealing with North Korea amid geopolitical uncertainty. It is the first such visit in three years.

South Korea foreign minister Park Yin visits Toyko, Japan
The South Korean and Japanese foreign ministers have restarted bilateral dialogue between their two countriesImage: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters/AP/dpa/picture alliance

The foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan met in Tokyo on Monday to try and overcome historical disputes and improve strained bilateral relations.

Relations between the two countries have been tense since the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945, which included Japanese abuses of Korean women and laborers during World War II.

The South Korea and Japan foreign ministers bump elbows
The South Korean and Japanese foreign ministers discussed forced labor issues during Park Yin's visit to Tokyo. Image: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters/AP/dpa/picture alliance

What was discussed in the meeting?

Integral to the dispute are several South Korean court rulings from 2018, ordering the Japanese companies Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to compensate forced Korean laborers.

When the two firms refused to comply, the former South Korean laborers responded by demanding the sale of the companies' corporate assets.

The South Korean Supreme Court is expected to make a final decision on seizing the assets within two months. Tokyo has warned there could be repercussions if such orders were enforced.

South Korean Foreign Minister Park Yin told his Japanese counterpart that he would try to resolve the forced labor issue ahead of any ruling on compensation payments.

In July, the South Korean Foreign Ministry started consulting with lawyers and activists representing the Korean forced laborers to include them in any solution.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry said both foreign ministers had agreed to come to a quick resolution on the issue. But it was unclear when that would happen.

What makes this meeting so important?

It is the first visit by a South Korean foreign minister to Japan in three years. It comes after the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the beginning of July, as well as the election of new South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol in May.

"While looking at (history) squarely, we want to establish future-oriented cooperative relations with Japan that meet our shared interest and values,'' Park told reporters last week.

According to local news outlets, he deemed the trip "very meaningful" before flying to Tokyo.

The United States has tried to foster closer cooperation between its two closest allies in North Asia and to help repair their historical ties given North Korea's missile and nuclear program and China's increasing influence in the region.

South Korea's new government led by President Yoon has been eager to reach a trilateral security cooperation with the United States.

Japan's Foreign Ministry said that the two countries agreed to cooperate in dealing with North Korea and to accelerate bilateral talks in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

los/nm (AP, AFP, Reuters)