SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – Leaders of South Korea and Japan will meet Sunday for their second summit in less than two months to strengthen cooperation after years of strained ties on historic issues.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will arrive in South Korea on Sunday for a two-day visit, reciprocating a trip by South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol to Tokyo in mid-March.

The exchange of visits between leaders from Asia’s neighbors, the first of its kind in 12 years, signals both nations are serious about strengthening ties in the face of shared regional challenges such as North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal and China’s increasing assertiveness.

“I hope to have an open exchange of views with President Yoon based on our relationship of trust,” Kishida told reporters before leaving his official residence. “Since March, there have been different levels of communication in areas like finance and defense, and I plan to expand on this ongoing trend.”

Yoon spokesman Lee Do-woon told reporters Thursday that Sunday’s summit is expected to focus on security, economic and cultural cooperation. He previously said North Korea, South Korea-Japan relations overall and unspecified international issues would be on the agenda.

At their March summit, Yoon and Kishida agreed to resume senior-level visits and other talks. In recent weeks, the two countries have also withdrawn economic retaliatory moves they took against each other in previous years as their historical dispute flared up again.

Relations between Seoul and Tokyo have long suffered recurring setbacks over issues arising from Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule on the Korean peninsula.

The latest sticking point in their relationship was a 2018 court ruling in South Korea that ordered two Japanese companies to financially compensate some of their aging former Korean employees for colonial-era forced labor. The rulings angered Japan, which has argued that all compensation issues were already settled when the two countries normalized relations in 1965.

In an escalation of tensions, the two countries later downgraded each other’s trade status, while Seoul also threatened to step up a pact to swap military intelligence. Some activists and residents of South Korea also ran campaigns to boycott Japanese products.

Strained relations between South Korea and Japan complicated US efforts to build a stronger regional alliance to better deal with increasing Chinese influence and the nuclear threat posed by North Korea.

In March, however, Yoon’s conservative government took an important step to mend ties by announcing that it would use local funds to compensate forced labor victims without demanding contributions from Japanese companies. Later in March, Yoon traveled to Tokyo to meet up with Kishida.

Yoon’s move drew strong backlash from some of the forced labor victims and his liberal domestic rivals, who have demanded direct compensation from Japanese companies. Yoon has defended his decision, saying that greater cooperation with Japan is needed to deal with a range of challenges including North Korea’s advancing nuclear program, intensifying US-China strategic rivalry and global supply chain issues.

Some observers say that if Kishida again apologizes for Japan’s colonial misconduct during his visit to Seoul, it would likely help Yoon garner more domestic support for his policy toward Japan.

When asked if he would talk to Yoon about the forced labor victims, Kishida said in his apartment: “We will talk about it openly.”

Seoul and Tokyo have a lot of other sensitive history and territorial disputes mostly related to Japanese colonization. Recalling the delicate nature of their relationship, diplomats between the two countries spat last week at a South Korean lawmaker’s visit to disputed islands in the waters between the two countries. Seoul earlier protested Kishida’s making religious offerings at a Tokyo shrine, which it sees as a symbol of Japan’s wartime aggression. __

Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

Hyung-jin Kim, The Associated Press


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