Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida arrived in South Korea Sunday for a key summit with South Korean President Yoon Sok Yul, as the two countries seek to de-escalate tensions in their troubled relations.
The plane carrying Kishida landed at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam on Sunday.
This is the first summit between Tokyo and Seoul to be held in South Korea in 12 years. Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe went to South Korea in 2018 to attend the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
The visit follows a meeting between Kishida and Yoon in Tokyo in mid-March, when the two countries agreed to lift mutual trade restrictions.
Kishida first visited the Seoul National Cemetery where South Korean veterans are buried, to lay flowers.
He will later hold talks with Yoon Seok-yul, who has made restoring relations with Japan a top priority.
Japan and South Korea are major allies of the United States, but they share a painful past linked to Japan’s brutal occupation of the Korean peninsula between 1910 and 1945.
On Sunday, before leaving Japan, Kishida announced his hope that this visit would give new impetus to the “diplomatic shuttle” between the two countries, after a mechanism for regular meetings between their officials had stopped since December 2011.
Kishida and Yoon agreed in March to resume work.
Kishida said he was looking forward to a “sincere exchange of views… based on a relationship of trust.”
He will host South Korean President Kishida for a dinner at the presidential residence, which will likely be a Korean barbecue during which the Japanese prime minister can cook, state media reported.
Lim Eun-jung, assistant professor at Gongju National University, told YTN that Kishida’s direct approach to the national cemetery was remarkable.
Japan-Korea relations deteriorated after a South Korean court ruling in 2018 required Japanese companies to pay compensation for forced labor during the Japanese occupation.
But Seoul presented a plan in early March to pay compensation to South Koreans who were subjected to this practice, which does not include financial participation from Tokyo.
Tension with North Korea
Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry announced in April that it had begun the process of returning South Korea to the “white” list of trusted trading partners, after it was removed in 2019.
About 100 South Koreans gathered Saturday to protest Kishida’s visit. They believe that disputes related to the war should be at the top of the agenda on Sunday.
One of those demonstrators, Kim Jae-won, said Kishida “should sincerely apologize for Japan’s crimes against humanity and take responsibility.”
The efforts to restore relations between the two countries come amid escalating tension on the peninsula, where North Korea is doubling its weapons tests.
Pyongyang will test-fire a solid-fuel ICBM in 2023.
In turn, the United States and South Korea have strengthened their defense cooperation and conducted a series of major military exercises, including exercises in which Japan also participated this year.