SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The leaders of South Korea and Japan will meet next week for a summit expected to focus on expanding ties, both governments said Thursday. The announcement comes days after South Korea unveiled a major step toward resolving strained bilateral ties stemming from Tokyo’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
President Yoon Suk Yeol is to visit Japan from March 16-17 at the invitation of the Japanese government. During this two-day trip, Yoon will hold a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, according to the South Korean and Japanese governments.
Yoon’s office said in a statement the summit would be “an important milestone” in the development of Korea-Japan relations. It said South Korea hopes the two countries will “overcome an unfortunate past” and expand cooperation on security, economy and other sectors as a result of the visit.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said Tokyo’s invitation for the South Korean leader was a result of close communication between the two countries since Yoon’s inauguration in May.
“South Korea is an important neighbor that Japan should cooperate in various issues in the international society,” Matsuno said. “Through the upcoming visit, we hope the ties between our two countries will develop further based on our relations of friendship and cooperation since the normalization of our diplomatic ties.”
The announcement on the summit came three days after South Korea said it would raise local funds to compensate Koreans who performed forced labor during Tokyo’s 1910-45 colonial rule. The South Korean plan doesn’t require Japanese companies to contribute to the reparations.
Bilateral ties suffered a major setback after South Korea’s top court in 2018 ordered two Japanese companies to compensate some of their former Korean employees for forced labor during the colonial rule. The companies and the Japanese government refused to comply with the rulings and insisted all compensation issues were settled by a bilateral 1965 treaty that normalized relations between the two countries and was accompanied by hundreds of millions of dollars in economic aid and loans from Tokyo to Seoul.
The fraught Seoul-Tokyo ties complicated American efforts to reinforce its three-way security cooperation in the face of rising Chinese influence in the region and North Korean nuclear threats. President Joe Biden hailed South Korea’s announcement Monday as “a groundbreaking new chapter” of cooperation between two of the United States’ closest allies.
Since taking office, Yoon has pushed for stronger relations with Japan as a way to boost security cooperation among Seoul, Tokyo and Washington as North Korea adopted an escalatory nuclear doctrine and pushed to develop more powerful nuclear-capable missiles targeting South Korea.
The South Korean plan to end the disputes over the 2018 rulings invited fierce opposition from some of the forced labor victims involved in the lawsuits, their supporters, and liberal opposition politicians, who have called it a diplomatic surrender and demanded direct payments and a fresh apology from Japan over the issue.
On Tuesday, Yoon defended his government’s step, saying it’s crucial for Seoul to build future-oriented ties with Tokyo.
In September, Yoon and Kishida held the first summit between the two countries in nearly three years on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. During that summit, the two agreed to accelerate efforts to mend their frayed ties.
Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.