Japan and South Korea are arranging to hold their first working-level security talks in more than five years next month, a diplomatic source said Monday, in the run-up to a scheduled visit by President Yoon Suk Yeol to the United States.
An early resumption of the dialogue, last held in March 2018, was agreed by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Yoon at their summit on March 16, as Tokyo and Seoul work to improve their ties, which were frayed by a bilateral wartime labor dispute in recent years.
Senior foreign and defense ministry officials from the two countries are likely to affirm close coordination over North Korea, as Pyongyang has shown no signs of ceasing its ballistic missile launches amid fears about its possible seventh nuclear test, the source said.
In early March, South Korea announced a solution to the wartime labor issue, with Yoon, who took office in May 2022, pledging to improve relations with Japan while deepening military cooperation with the United States in the face of threats from the North.
Later, Yoon made a trip to Tokyo for talks with Kishida, becoming the first South Korean president to visit Japan in four years.
The venue for the upcoming security gathering has yet to be determined, according to the source. In the past, the two Asian nations -- both U.S. allies -- generally hosted such meetings alternately. The last one took place in Tokyo.
Takehiro Funakoshi, head of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, and Seo Min Jung, director general of the South Korean Foreign Ministry's Asia and Pacific Affairs Bureau, are among the expected participants, the source said.
The senior officials may discuss how to pave the way for enabling real-time information sharing between Japan and South Korea about the North's ballistic missile launches.
Ensuring the safety of Japanese citizens living in South Korea, including their evacuation in case of an emergency on the Korean Peninsula, might be also brought up during the next meeting, the source said.
The first Japan-South Korea security gathering was held in Seoul in June 1998 with the aim of building mutual trust between the foreign policy and defense authorities.
But the talks were suspended in 2018 after South Korea's Supreme Court ordered Japanese companies to compensate plaintiffs for alleged forced labor during World War II under the country's 1910-1945 colonial rule of the peninsula.
Following the rulings, Japan-South Korea ties plunged to their lowest point in decades under the left-wing government of Yoon's predecessor, Moon Jae In, who put an emphasis on improving relations with the North.
To bolster security cooperation with Washington, Yoon is slated to make a state visit to the United States in late April to meet with President Joe Biden, while Kishida will host a Group of Seven summit in Hiroshima in May.