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International relations

Kishida says cooperation with South Korea needed 'more than ever'

Japan PM and Yoon's delegation agree to seek better bilateral ties

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, fourth from right, meets a delegation sent by South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol. (Japan's Cabinet Affairs Office handout via Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and a delegation sent by South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol agreed Tuesday on the need to improve bilateral ties that have sunk to the lowest level in years over wartime issues.

During a courtesy call at the prime minister's office, Kishida underscored the urgent need to improve ties in a rapidly changing international environment, while the visiting delegation handed to Kishida a letter from Yoon.

"Given that the rules-based international order is threatened, strategic cooperation between Japan and South Korea, as well as Japan, the United States and South Korea is needed more than ever," Kishida said, adding, "We have no time to spare in improving Japan-South Korea relations."

His remarks came as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, while Kishida and Yoon are also facing neighboring challenges including China's growing assertiveness and North Korea's nuclear and missile threats.

Kishida added, "We need to resolve issues lying between Japan and South Korea" including the wartime labor of Koreans, which has been a major sticking point.

The delegation led by Chung Jin-suk, deputy speaker of the National Assembly, said that bilateral relations are important and it hopes the sides work together in improving them.

The group, which is on a five-day trip to Japan through Thursday ahead of Yoon's inauguration on May 10, did not request Kishida's attendance at the inauguration ceremony, according to a Japanese government source.

The visit by the delegation has fueled optimism that the Tokyo-Seoul relationship may finally improve after the victory of South Korea's main opposition candidate in the March presidential election. Yoon has called for a "future-oriented" approach.

In Seoul, incoming South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin told reporters that the delegation is "discussing ways to resolve issues in a future-oriented manner based on a correct historic understanding."

The delegation met with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, and the defense and industry policy chiefs, the previous day, during which they agreed to make efforts toward the improvement of bilateral ties.

Industry minister Koichi Hagiuda told a regular news conference that he told the delegation Monday "let's turn back the clock" to 2015 when the two countries struck an agreement to "finally and irreversibly" resolve the issue of "comfort women" procured for Japan's wartime military brothels.

The delegation also met with Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno on Tuesday and supported Matsuno's call for cooperation in resolving the issue of North Korea's abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.

During the administration of incumbent South Korean President Moon Jae-in bilateral ties have deteriorated over disputes stemming from Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, namely the comfort women issue and compensation demands from South Koreans over what they claim was wartime forced labor.

In addition, the two sides have long been at odds over islets controlled by Seoul and claimed by Tokyo, known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea, as well as over Japanese restrictions on semiconductor material exports to South Korea imposed in July 2019.

Tensions also grew on the defense front after an incident in December 2018 when the South Korean navy allegedly locked fire-control radar on a Japanese Self-Defense Forces patrol plane in Japan's exclusive economic zone.

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