December 8, 2022

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – Leaders of South Korea and Japan agreed to accelerate efforts to mend relations strained by Japan’s former colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula as they held their countries’ first summit talks in nearly three years on the sidelines of the conference. The United Nations General Assembly, the two governments announced on Thursday.

The meeting came after Tokyo denied Seoul’s earlier announcement that it had agreed to the summit, referring to the sensitive nature of their current relationship.

During their 30-minute meeting in New York on Wednesday, South Korean President Yun Seok-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida shared the need to improve bilateral relations and agreed to instruct their diplomats to intensify talks for this, Yoon’s office said in a statement. statement.

Kishida’s office confirmed the hotel meeting. A separate Japanese Foreign Ministry statement said the two leaders agreed to enhance cooperation between the two countries as well as with the United States. She said the leaders shared the need to restore healthy relationships.

Yoon’s office said the two leaders jointly expressed serious concerns about North Korea’s recent legislation allowing the preemptive use of nuclear weapons in certain circumstances and the moves North Korea mentioned to conduct its first nuclear test in five years. Japan’s Foreign Ministry said Kishida and Yun had agreed to further cooperation in their response to North Korea.

The governments of South Korea and Japan said that Yoon and Kishida have agreed to continue their contacts. But it was not immediately known how important the talks the two leaders might have to tackle the main sticking points in the bilateral relationship, which suffered its biggest setback in recent years when the two countries were ruled by predecessors Yun and Kishida.

In 2018, South Korea’s Supreme Court ruled that two Japanese companies – Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries – should compensate Koreans who were forced to work during Japan’s 1910-45 colonial occupation. The Japanese companies and government rejected the rulings, arguing that all compensation issues had already been settled under the 1965 treaty normalizing bilateral relations and included Tokyo providing millions of dollars to Seoul in the form of economic aid and loans.

The dispute prompted the two governments to downgrade each other’s business status, and prompted Seoul to threaten to abandon an intelligence-sharing agreement. For their part, former Korean forced laborers and their supporters lobbied for the forced sale of the assets of Japanese companies in South Korea.

It is unclear whether Wednesday’s summit will make progress on the issue because participants in court cases maintain that Japanese companies must first agree to South Korean court rulings if they want to resolve legal disputes.

Frayed relations have complicated the United States’ effort to bolster its tripartite security alliance with Seoul and Tokyo – two of its main regional allies where it has a total of 80,000 troops – to better deal with growing Chinese influence and North Korean nuclear threats.

South Korea and Japan have been seeking to improve relations since Yun’s inauguration in May, who has publicly called for better relations with Tokyo and enhanced security cooperation between Seoul, Tokyo and Washington in the face of North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal.

But when the Yun government announced last week what it described as the planned summit between Yun and Kishida in New York, Tokyo officials responded that there was no agreement to hold that summit.

The Yoon Kishida meeting was the first summit between the two 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 the South Korea-Japan-China summit.


Writer Marie Yamaguchi for the Associated Press in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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