Japan and South Korea agreed to resume regular visits between their leaders and take steps to resolve a trade dispute during a highly anticipated summit Thursday, in what Japan’s prime minister called a “big step” to rebuilding the two nations’ security and economic ties as they try to overcome a century of difficult history.
The summit could revise the strategic map of northeast Asia. The two U.S. allies, who have long often been at odds over their history, are seeking to form a united front, driven by shared concerns about a restive North Korea and a more powerful China.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol both stressed the importance of improved ties as they opened Thursday’s summit, hours after a North Korean missile launch and encounters between Japanese and Chinese vessels in disputed waters.
In his opening remarks, Kishida said that the meeting will mark the resumption of regular visits between the leaders, which have been on hold for more than a decade. He told a joint news conference that the countries had agreed to resume defense dialogue and vice-ministerial strategic talks, while also restarting a process of trilateral communication among Japan, South Korea, and China.
South Korea’s trade minster says Japan has agreed to lift its export controls on South Korea.
Trade Minister Lee Chang-yang said Thursday that South Korea subsequently agreed to withdraw its WTO complaints over the Japanese curbs.
Lee says the two countries reached the agreements during talks this week.
The announcement came just before the leaders of South Korea and Japan were to meet for a summit to mend their frayed ties and boost cooperation.
NORTH KOREA WELCOMES SUMMIT WITH MISSILE TEST
A North Korean missile launch early Thursday, just before Yoon departed for Tokyo, could increase momentum for he and Kishida to move their countries closer diplomatically. The intercontinental ballistic missile was launched on a steep trajectory to avoid land and fell into open waters off Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido.
The test comes after a year in which North Korea has escalated its nuclear threats, and is likely intended to send a message both about the summit and simultaneous joint military exercises including the U.S., which the isolated country views as directed against it.
“The peace and stability in the region are important for the region, and we must further strengthen cooperation among allies and like-minded countries,” Kishida said, referring to the missile launch.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said Japan at the summit wants to reaffirm cooperation with Seoul and Washington in responses to North Korea’s missile threats.
Yoon, in a written response Wednesday to questions from foreign media including The Associated Press, said strained Korea-Japan relations must be mended as soon as possible. “I believe we must end the vicious cycle of mutual hostility and work together to seek our two countries’ common interests.”