Japan, South Korea look to deepen bilateral ties despite tensions

Setting aside lingering war legacy disputes, the countries’ leaders agree to repair ties to confront regional threats.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaking at a lectern.
Japan's new PM Fumio Kishida calls on South Korea to take 'concrete, firm action' to improve communication and diplomacy between the two countries [File: Eugene Hoshiko/Pool via Reuters]

Japan and South Korea will seek to deepen diplomatic ties in the face of regional security threats, officials have said, despite badly strained bilateral relations.

Japan’s new prime minister, Fumio Kishida, spoke with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Friday for 35 minutes on phone, the Japanese foreign ministry said in a statement.

The two leaders have stated their commitment to set aside their disputes in the face of common concerns over threats posed by China and North Korea.

“Relations between Japan and South Korea continue to be in severe conditions,” Kishida told reporters.

Kishida called on South Korea to take “concrete, firm action” to improve communication and diplomacy between the two countries, adding he was waiting “for its move”.

South Korea’s presidential Blue House said Moon had told Kishida that it was important to resolve wartime issues in a way that does not cause diplomatic friction.

“Relationships between the two countries are experiencing difficulties due to several issues, but I think that we can overcome them together if we have the will and make efforts,” Moon said, according to a statement.

The ties between Tokyo and Seoul have been strained by disagreements over the legacy of Japan’s World War II atrocities and compensation for wartime Korean labourers during the Japanese occupation.

Japan insists all compensation issues were settled under a 1965 treaty normalising relations with Seoul and say South Korean court orders to Japanese companies to pay compensation violate international law.

Disagreements over recent court rulings related to the forced labour issue have been followed by a dispute over export controls that has yet to be resolved.

Late in September, a South Korean court ordered that assets seized from Japanese firm Mitsubishi Heavy Industries be sold off to pay compensation to two women subjected to forced labour during Japan’s occupation of the Korean Peninsula.

US President Joe Biden, an ally of both countries, has been calling for stronger three-way cooperation in the face of North Korean nuclear threats and challenges posed by China.

North Korea has conducted multiple missile launches in recent weeks. Its leader, Kim Jong Un, has said his country’s weapons development is necessary in the face of “hostile” policies from the United States and a military build-up in South Korea.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies