Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol confirmed Sunday that the two countries will join hands to address growing security threats in Asia, such as North Korea's
At their summit in Seoul, Kishida and Yoon agreed to send experts to the site to conduct a scientific analysis as Japan seeks to release treated radioactive water into the sea from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant amid fears about the impact of the move on the ocean environment.
The meeting was held in Seoul as part of the restarting of reciprocal visits. Kishida's trip to South Korea was the first by a Japanese prime minister in over five years, after Seoul announced a solution to a wartime labor compensation dispute that had escalated tensions between the two nations.
Japan-South Korea ties reached their lowest point in decades under the left-wing administration of Yoon's predecessor, Moon Jae In, over wartime issues that included a labor compensation row, preventing the two countries from pursuing critical diplomatic negotiations.
But Yoon, who became president in May 2022, has been taking steps to improve relations with Japan, proposing the solution to the wartime labor issue in early March. He made a trip to Tokyo later the same month for talks with Kishida.
Kishida, who is scheduled to host the Group of Seven summit in his constituency of Hiroshima later this month, has been eager to achieve reconciliation with South Korea, as the United States, their close ally, has become warier of the security situation in Asia.
At a joint press conference with Kishida, Yoon said Japan-South Korea cooperation is "essential not only for the common interests of the two nations but also for the world peace and prosperity in the face of the current international situation and the global crisis."
Kishida said dialogue between Japan and South Korea "has been moving dynamically" for the past two months, adding that the leaders confirmed that bilateral ties have been on an "improvement track."
He also referred to the wartime labor issue. He said his heart "aches" as many people have not forgotten the painful memories of the past, though they look to the future.
On Sunday, meanwhile, Kishida and Yoon agreed to bolster economic cooperation to strengthen semiconductor supply chains, while Yoon voiced his hope for a swift recovery in the areas hit hard by an earthquake that rocked the central Japanese prefecture of Ishikawa on Friday.
As for the treated water, Japan will accept an inspection team from South Korea on May 23, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara told reporters, with critics saying the planned disposal would harm the marine environment, food safety and human health.
During their talks in March, Kishida and Yoon agreed to restart reciprocal visits by Japanese and South Korean leaders, which had been suspended since 2011. Kishida subsequently decided to make his first trip to South Korea since taking office in October 2021.
Regarding their disagreements over wartime issues, Tokyo and Seoul have effectively confirmed that a South Korean government-backed foundation will pay compensation to plaintiffs who won lawsuits over their alleged forced labor, instead of the Japanese companies that were sued.
In South Korea, however, the government's proposal has faced criticism, as the solution does not call for a fresh apology or compensation from Tokyo to the plaintiffs, who were laborers during Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
On Sunday, Kishida, known as a dovish moderate in his Liberal Democratic Party, said he conveyed to Yoon his commitment to upholding and maintaining previous government statements that expressed remorse over Japan's wartime aggression in Asia.
In 2018, South Korea's top court ordered Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and Nippon Steel Corp. to compensate the plaintiffs, while Japan has claimed all issues linked to its colonization of the peninsula were settled under a bilateral agreement signed in 1965.
The last trip to South Korea by a Japanese premier was in February 2018, when then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics' opening ceremony.
Kishida has invited Yoon to the G-7 summit as a guest. He said Sunday that the two leaders are slated to visit together the cenotaph for Korean victims of the 1945 U.S. atomic bomb, located in the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, on the occasion of the gathering.
In late April, Yoon made a state visit to the United States for talks with President Joe Biden. He said at the joint press conference that South Korea, Japan and the United States are expected to hold their trilateral summit on the sidelines of the G-7 meeting.
Gist of Japan-South Korea summit talks in Seoul
The two leaders agree to:
-- join hands to address growing security threats in Asia, such as North Korea's missile and nuclear threat.
-- send experts before releasing treated radioactive water into sea from crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant.
-- bolster economic cooperation to strengthen semiconductor supply chains.
-- voices hope for swift recovery in areas hit hard by powerful earthquake that struck Ishikawa Prefecture on Friday.
-- says his heart aches over Korea's colonial-era history.