SEOUL: South Korean foreign minister Park Jin departed for Tokyo on Monday, saying he carried a message of reconciliation from new President Yoon Suk-yeol, who hopes to overcome historical disputes and repair strained ties with Japan.
Ties have been fraught for years over the bitter legacy of Japan’s occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945. Disputes range over issues from wartime forced labour to export controls, but both nations have expressed interest in improving relations.
In his first trip to the Japanese capital since Yoon took office in May, Park is set to meet his counterpart, Yoshimasa Hayashi, later on Monday.
Speaking to reporters at the airport, Park said he would tell the Japanese side that Yoon had a strong will to improve South Korea-Japan relations, a television broadcast showed.
The United States, which has separate alliances with both countries, has been pressing South Korea and Japan to mend ties to ensure better co-operation on issues such as North Korea and China.
South Korean officials hope the high-level visit will launch talks to secure a breakthrough in the disputes, despite concerns that the death of former Japanese premier Shinzo Abe could change Japan’s policy priorities.
The trip aims at “turning on the tap” for serious talks on issues about forced labour, which stalled under Yoon’s predecessor, a senior official handling Japan policy told Reuters last week.
Japanese officials also say it is important to improve ties, but they look to Seoul for proposals to resolve disputes such as South Korean court orders to seize assets of Japanese companies accused of not compensating some colonial-era labourers.
South Korea’s Supreme Court is expected to make a final decision on liquidating the assets in August or September, and Tokyo has warned of serious repercussions if the orders are enforced.