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International relations

Japan and South Korea to open borders for business from Thursday

Negative COVID test needed to travel, in move seen to improve ties

Japanese and South Koreans on business will no longer need to quarantine for 14 days when travel between the two countries resumes.   © Reuters

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan and South Korea will reopen borders to each other for business trips from Thursday, a move that may help improve relations that have sunk to a historic low over wartime labor.

"Currently, the Japan-South Korea relationship is in an extremely severe situation so exchanges of people from both countries, starting with businesspeople, are important," Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said at a press conference on Tuesday. The coronavirus pandemic had led both sides to ban international travel earlier this year.

Under the bilateral agreement, travelers on short-term business trips will not be required to self-isolate for 14 days if they test negative for the novel coronavirus and submit travel itineraries to authorities, among other measures that will be implemented to prevent the spread of the virus.

Expatriates and other long-term residents will be allowed to enter on condition that they remain in isolation for two weeks.

The agreement follows a similar deal Tokyo reached with Singapore in August.

Relations between Japan and South Korea have worsened since South Korean courts ruled against Japanese companies and ordered them to offer compensation for wartime forced labor. Those rulings led Tokyo to retaliate by controlling exports to South Korea of materials used to manufacture semiconductors.

Japanese and South Korean officials had been negotiating since July over the resumption of business travel, with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and President Moon Jae-in last month agreeing in a telephone call to speed up talks.

Around 5.58 million South Koreans visited Japan last year, the second-highest number of arrivals, after around 9.59 million from China, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization. Of the visitors from South Korea, about 310,000 traveled for business.

Japan, which started to ban entry to foreigners in February to curb the spread of coronavirus, has recently began reopening its borders as part of efforts to boost the economy.

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