Seoul, South Korea — 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, at the countries’ first summit in nearly three years amid historical tensions.
The two sides have agreed on a meeting between South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and are discussing the exact timing, Kim Tae-hyo, Yoon’s deputy director of national security, told reporters.
Kim said the meeting was part of a series that Yoon is trying to organize with world leaders attending the United Nations General Assembly next Tuesday and Wednesday. He said South Korea and the United States had also agreed on a meeting between Yoon and President Joe Biden.
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 reunion will produce an immediate breakthrough as some former Korean forced laborers and their support groups are unlikely to agree to a deal to settle their legal battles unless Japanese companies consent to the court rulings. .
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.