Japan to send FM to South Korean president’s inauguration

TOKYO (AP) — Japan announced Friday that its foreign minister will attend next week’s inauguration ceremony for South Korea’s new president, Yoon Suk Yeol, as part of an effort to normalize tense relations between the countries.

Although the decision to send Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi to Seoul signals Japan’s willingness to enhance dialogue with South Korea, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s absence from the event underscores the unresolved issues that have been a constant thorn in their ties.

Japan sent a deputy prime minister to the 2013 inauguration, and sitting prime ministers attended the previous two ceremonies. No foreign guests were invited in 2017 for outgoing President Moon Jae-in’s swearing-in.

Relations between the countries have plummeted to an all-time low due to disputes over Japanese atrocities stemming from its colonization of the Korean peninsula between 1910 and 1945, including brutal treatment of Korean workers during wartime and abuse sex of women in military brothels.

Disagreements over history have been complicated by court rulings, including the South Korean Supreme Court’s 2018 order for Japanese companies to pay wartime compensation to Korean workers.

Japan maintains that all compensation issues were resolved under a 1965 treaty normalizing their ties and criticized South Korea for violating international law. The disputes have affected trade relations and security cooperation, raising concerns amid threats from China and North Korea.

Hayashi will make a two-day trip to Seoul starting Monday as Kishida’s special envoy, the Foreign Ministry said, stressing the importance of maintaining communication with the new government in Seoul.

Hayashi is expected to hold talks with several senior Yoon government officials, including his counterpart, but Japanese officials said details were still being worked out. Hayashi is the first Japanese foreign minister to visit South Korea since Taro Kono in 2018.

Last week, a delegation from the incoming Yoon administration held a series of meetings with top officials in Tokyo, including Kishida, and agreed to make efforts to soften their ties.

Cooperation between Japan and South Korea, as well as with the United States, their mutual ally, is “indispensable to stability in the region, including its response to North Korea,” Hayashi told reporters before his trip was announced. .

“Although relations between Japan and South Korea are in extremely severe conditions, we cannot leave them alone,” Hayashi said. “In order to bring back healthy ties between Japan and South Korea, I plan to communicate closely with President-elect Yoon and his new administration, but keep Japan’s position constant.”

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