TOKYO (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Tuesday he is arranging a trip to South Korea for talks with President Yoon Suk Yeol in return for his March visit to Tokyo, aiming to further strengthen their ties before the upcoming Group of Seven summit.
Tokyo and Seoul have been working to repair relations that were strained over wartime history disputes as they deepen three-way security cooperation with Washington in response to growing regional threats from North Korea and China.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday in Ghana as part of his multi-nation trip to Africa and Singapore, Kishida said he hopes to visit May 7-8 and exchange views with Yoon on ways to speed up the bolstering of bilateral ties and discuss regional and global issues.
“If my South Korea visit is achieved ahead of the G-7 summit, I expect it will be a great opportunity to give impetus to our ‘shuttle diplomacy’ and have a heart-to-heart exchange of our views on accelerating Japan-South Korea ties and drastically changing the global situation,” said Kishida, who is hosting the May 19-21 summit in Hiroshima.
Kishida will be the first Japanese leader to visit South Korea since former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended the Pyeongchang Olympics in February 2018. The two leaders are expected to focus on their cooperation and responses to North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.
Japan and South Korea want to ensure their relations are on track for considerable recovery ahead of G-7, where Yoon is invited as one of eight outreach nations. The two leaders are also expected to hold trilateral meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden on the sidelines.
Washington has been stepping up cooperation with its key Asian allies.
Yoon was in Washington last week and won stronger U.S. commitment on extended nuclear deterrence, including improved information sharing and nuclear submarine visits to South Korea. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was at the White House on Monday and Biden reiterated U.S. commitment to the Philippines’ security and noted the “deep friendship” of the two nations.
Ties between Japan and South Korea have improved rapidly since March, when Yoon's government announced plans to use South Korean funds to compensate forced laborers without requiring contributions from Japan. The plan aims to end a dispute stemming from South Korean court rulings in 2018 that ordered Japanese companies to compensate Korean workers for abusive treatment and forced labor during World War II, when the Korean Peninsula was a Japanese colony.
Since Yoon's trip to Japan in March, Tokyo and Seoul have mostly resolved their trade disputes. The two sides also held the first talks between their finance ministers in seven years, seeking strengthened cooperation in resilient supply chains amid China's growing influence.
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