South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin began a meeting in Tokyo on Monday with his Japanese counterpart, carrying a message of reconciliation in hopes that the neighbours can overcome historical disputes and repair strained ties.
Ties have been fraught for years over the bitter legacy of Japan’s occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945. Disputes concern issues from wartime forced labour to export controls, but both nations have expressed interest in improving relations.
Park smiled as he bumped elbows at the meeting with Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi on his first trip to the Japanese capital since South Korea’s new President Yoon Suk-yeol took office in May, which is to be followed by a dinner.
There were no immediate details of their remarks.
Speaking to reporters in Seoul before flying to Tokyo, Park described his trip as “very meaningful”, adding that he would tell the Japanese side that Yoon had a strong will to improve South Korea-Japan relations.
The meeting comes against the backdrop of efforts by the United States to encourage both its key North Asian allies to mend ties and build co-operation on issues such as North Korea’s missile and nuclear programmes and China’s growing influence.
South Korean officials hope the high-level visit will launch talks to secure a breakthrough in the disputes, despite concerns that the death of former Japanese premier Shinzo Abe could change Japan’s policy priorities.
The trip aims at “turning on the tap” for serious talks on issues about forced labour, which stalled under Yoon’s predecessor, a senior official handling Japan policy told Reuters last week.
Japanese officials also say it is important to improve ties, but they look to Seoul for proposals to resolve disputes such as South Korean court orders to seize assets of Japanese companies accused of not compensating some colonial-era labourers.
South Korea’s Supreme Court is expected to make a final decision on liquidating the assets in August or September, and Tokyo has warned of serious repercussions if the orders are enforced.