South Korea and Japan diverge on summit plan amid historic dispute | National policy

By HYUNG-JIN KIM – Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The leaders of South Korea and Japan will meet next week on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Seoul officials said Thursday, during what would be the countries’ first summit in nearly three years amid tensions over history.

But in an indication of the still delicate nature of the bilateral relationship, Japan denied later Thursday that an agreement on the talks had been reached.

An official from South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s office said the two sides had agreed on a meeting between Yoon and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and were discussing the exact timing.

Kim Tae-hyo, Yoon’s deputy director of national security, told reporters the meeting was part of a series that Yoon is trying to organize with world leaders attending the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday and Wednesday. He said South Korea and the United States had also agreed on a meeting between Yoon and President Joe Biden.

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However, in response to a question from The Associated Press about the South Korean announcement, the Japanese Prime Minister’s Office said “no such fact exists”.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said details of Kishida’s schedule in New York have not been determined. He added, however, that Japan wants to cooperate closely with South Korea to restore healthy relations.

South Korea’s presidential office said it must study the Japanese comments before responding.

Japanese officials may have been unhappy with South Korea’s unilateral announcement of a meeting, with details likely still under discussion. It was still unclear if Yoon and Kishida would meet next week.

Ties between South Korea and Japan, two key US allies, are at their lowest level in decades after South Korean courts ruled in 2018 that two Japanese companies – Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries — were to compensate former Korean employees for forced labor during 1910s Japan. 45 colonial rule of the Korean peninsula. Companies and the Japanese government refused to comply with the rulings, arguing that all compensation issues had been resolved under a 1965 treaty that normalized relations between the countries and provided for a payment of $500 million. from Japan to South Korea.

The historic disputes have spilled over into other areas, with the two countries downgrading each other’s trade status and Seoul threatening to scrap an intelligence-sharing agreement. The squabbles have complicated a U.S.-led attempt to solidify alliances with regional partners amid China’s growing influence and North Korean nuclear threats.

Seoul and Tokyo have been seeking to mend strained ties since the May inauguration of Yoon, a conservative who wants to improve relations with Japan and strengthen Seoul-Tokyo-Washington trilateral security cooperation to better deal with growing North Korean threats.

It’s unclear if the Yoon-Kishida meeting will produce an immediate breakthrough as some former Korean forced laborers and their support groups are unlikely to accept a deal to settle their legal battles unless Japanese companies consent to court rulings. .

“Given that Japanese companies are rejecting the 2018 court rulings, I think it would be too unrealistic and naive to think that there are other resolutions that can obtain victims’ consent,” said Lee Kook Un, leader of a victim support group. some former workers involved in lawsuits with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

The last talks between the leaders of South Korea and Japan took place in December 2019, when South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met in China.

Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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