Japan premier praises S. Korea leader

Countries seek to overcome troubled history, work toward improving relations

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol (left) and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida make a toast Thursday at Rengatei restaurant in the famed Ginza district of Tokyo. (AP/Japan’s Cabinet Public Affairs Office)

TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida thanked South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol for his work to overcome the history of enmity between the two countries, pledging to work with him toward better future relations.

"I want to express my heartfelt respect to President Yoon for making a difficult decision and action by overcoming various [troubled] background and history between the neighbors Japan and South Korea," Kishida told a news conference Friday.

The two sides seek to turn the page on the long-standing row that has divided the United States allies and form a united front driven by shared concerns over North Korea and Russia.

During Thursday's talks, the two leaders agreed to make the Japan-South Korea summit a start in resuming their "shuttle diplomacy" of regular visits, which had stalled since 2011. They also agreed to resume defense and security dialogues, and Yoon ensured full cooperation in military intelligence-sharing, which Seoul had previously threatened to stop.

South Korea announced that it was dropping its complaint to the World Trade Organization alleging Japan's unfair trade practices, while Tokyo said it will lift the export controls imposed since 2019 on shipments to South Korea of goods crucial for the production of computer chips.

On Friday in Tokyo, Yoon told a gathering of business leaders from South Korea and Japan that the two sides should collaborate more on advanced technology, climate change and economic security.

"The governments of the two countries will do everything to help you interact freely and create innovative business opportunities," Yoon said.

Yoon was the guest of honor at the Tokyo roundtable attended by about a dozen business leaders from both nations.

Yoon stressed that there was "light at the end of a long tunnel" of troubled relations, according to a Japanese official who briefed reporters after the meeting at Keidanren Kaikan, the headquarters of the country's top business lobby, the Japan Business Federation.

A 2018 South Korean Supreme Court decision ordering financial compensation from Japanese companies for forced labor during Tokyo's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula targets major Japanese companies Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nippon Steel Corp., both members of the Keidanren. Representatives from those companies did not attend Friday's meeting.

Japan has refused to pay, stressing that compensation issues were settled by a 1965 treaty.

Yoon's announcement that local funds will be used to compensate the victims drew protests from those who suffered under Japan's forced-labor system and their advocates. They want payments from Japan and a fresh apology.

The Keidanren and the Federation of Korean Industry have set up a $1.5 million fund to promote exchanges among young people, said Reiji Takehara, director of the International Cooperation Bureau at Keidanren.

Under the normalization treaty in 1965, Japan provided $800 million in economic cooperation and aid, according to its Foreign Ministry.

Information for this article was contributed by Mari Yamaguchi and Aamer Madhani of The Associated Press.