Japan, South Korea hold first in-person meeting

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Japan, South Korea hold first in-person meeting

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, center, arrives at the Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas airport in Madrid on June 28. Pool photo via AP MADRID Prime Minister Fumio Kishida exchanged pleasantries with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol at a dinner for NATO leaders on June 28, their first in-person meeting and a step toward repairing their long troubled relations.

They are not expected to hold talks while they are in Madrid for the NATO summit because they fear it will cause backlash from conservative Japanese voters.

According to an official with Yoon's office, Kishida congratulated him for his party's victory in local elections on June 1.

According to Yoon, he hopes Kishida will achieve good results in the July 10 Upper House elections.

Yoon said that we feel that we should urgently resolve pending problems between South Korea and Japan and move toward future-oriented relations after Japan s Upper House elections are over. The Foreign Ministry of Japan also confirmed that the two leaders had a brief exchange of greetings.

Kishida was quoted by the ministry as saying to Yoon that he wants the president to make an effort to return the extremely strained bilateral relations to healthy ones.

Kishida and Yoon were visiting the Spanish capital as Japan and South Korea were invited to the NATO summit as partner nations, along with Australia and New Zealand.

The four nations held their first meeting on the morning of June 29 at Japan's initiative.

Japan, the United States, and South Korea are expected to hold a three-way meeting during the NATO gathering that takes place on June 30.

Some signs have begun to emerge that the frosty relations between Japan and South Korea may finally be starting to thaw.

Two days after Yoon won the March 9 presidential election, Kishida called to congratulate him. During their conversation, they agreed to work together to repair their countries ties.

Kishida sent Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi as the special envoy of the prime minister to attend Yoon's inauguration ceremony on May 10.

In his personal letter to the new president, Kishida highlighted the need to quickly and fundamentally resolve the questions that stand in the way of improved ties.

A senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official proposed the idea that a Japan-South Korea summit, the first since December 2019, could take place on the sidelines of the NATO summit.

The official said it would be easier to hold such talks by taking advantage of an international gathering.

The climate surrounding the two nations turned tense again after a South Korean research vessel carried out a marine survey in late May in waters off the Takeshima islets, which are called Dokdo by South Korea and claimed by the two countries.

After the incident, criticism erupted within Kishida's Liberal Democratic Party that Seoul was making light of Tokyo.

Some insiders felt that South Korea did not present concrete measures to resolve the contentious issue of compensation of wartime Korean laborers who worked for Japanese businesses. Japan has long maintained that the compensation issue was resolved once and for all when the two nations normalized their relations with bilateral pacts in 1965.

The Kishida administration decided to pass on a summit with Yoon in Madrid out of concern, with the Upper House election around the corner, that conservative Japanese voters might take the talks with the South Korean leader as a concession.

After the Upper House election, Tokyo and Seoul are expected to switch to full gear to deal with each other.