Japan and South Korea agreed Wednesday to keep working together to address issues related to North Korea, but remained apart over the thorny bilateral issue of wartime labor during their foreign ministerial meeting in Brazil, according to the Japanese government.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa and her counterpart Cho Tae Yul met in person for the first time since Cho took office last month on the sidelines of a foreign ministerial meeting of the Group of 20 major economies in Rio de Janeiro.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa (L) and her South Korean counterpart Cho Tae Yul shake hands on the sidelines of a foreign ministerial meeting of the Group of 20 major economies in Rio de Janeiro on Feb. 21, 2024. (Photo courtesy of the Japanese Foreign Ministry)(Kyodo)

Kamikawa and Cho met after having reaffirmed during phone talks last month that the two countries shared serious concerns about a series of "provocative acts" by North Korea, such as its test launches of ballistic missiles in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The foreign ministers agreed Wednesday to cooperate closely to address the issue of human rights violations by Pyongyang, including its abductions of Japanese nationals decades ago, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.

Tokyo-Seoul relations, which had deteriorated in the late 2010s and early 2020s to the worst level in decades, have seen notable signs of improvement since South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol took office in May 2022.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Yoon have held many one-on-one meetings in recent years, and Kishida is considering visiting Seoul next month for another round of talks with his South Korean counterpart.

The foreign ministers also agreed during their talks Wednesday that the two countries will communicate closely to celebrate next year the 60th anniversary of the normalization of bilateral ties in 1965, according to the Japanese ministry.

Meanwhile, Kamikawa voiced her regret that South Korea authorized the transfer of a deposit of money by a Japanese corporate defendant, Hitachi Zosen Corp., to a South Korean plaintiff as compensation over the issue of labor during Japanese colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

Kamikawa told Cho that the payment, based on the South Korean Supreme Court's decision in December, caused an "unreasonable disadvantage" to the Japanese shipbuilder, according to the ministry.

Earlier Wednesday in Tokyo, Masataka Okano, the ministry's top bureaucrat, summoned South Korean Ambassador Yun Duk Min to protest the move, saying the court order was "in violation" of a 1965 bilateral agreement.

Tokyo has said all issues stemming from its colonization of the Korean Peninsula were settled "completely and finally" under the agreement.

In line with the Japanese government's stance, Hitachi Zosen had refused to comply with the ruling that ordered it to pay the plaintiff 50 million won ($38,000) in damages.

The firm deposited 60 million won at the Seoul Central District Court in 2019 to prevent its assets in South Korea from being seized and liquidated to compensate the plaintiff.

In late January, the court granted the plaintiff's request to seize the funds.

The deposit payment is the first case in which funds from a Japanese company have been transferred to a plaintiff following a trial related to wartime forced labor, the lawyer for the plaintiff in the Hitachi Zosen case said.

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