South Korea president to visit Japan for first time in 12 years

Yoon Suk-yeol of the main opposition People Power Party gestures to supporters during an election campaign rally in Seoul on 8 March, 2022, ahead of the 9 March presidential electionAFP file photo

South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol and his wife will visit Japan from March 16-17 at Tokyo's invitation, his office said on Thursday, the first such visit in 12 years after Seoul announced a plan to end a protracted dispute over wartime forced labour.

Yoon will hold a summit meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

"The visit... will be an important milestone in the improvement and development of relations between South Korea and Japan," Yoon's office said in a statement.

South Korea said on Monday that its companies would compensate victims of forced labour under Japan's colonial rule from 1910-1945, seeking to end a dispute that has undercut U.S.-led efforts to present a unified front against China and North Korea.

“South Korea is an important neighbour with which we should cooperate in addressing various issues in the international community,” Japan Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said at a briefing.

“I hope that through this visit to Japan, Japan-Korea relations will further develop based on the friendly and cooperative relations that have existed since the normalisation of diplomatic relations.”

He said "nothing has been decided" when asked about potential agenda items.

Yoon's office said he hoped to expand various security, economy, and cultural fields, and revitalise exchanges between people in the two countries "in order to overcome the unfortunate history of the past and move forward into the future."

South Korea's defence ministry said on Tuesday it would work with Japan to enhance security cooperation, including trilateral relations with the United States.

Washington had pressed its allies in both countries to reconcile and called the latest announcements "groundbreaking," but several of the victims have vowed to reject the compensation, setting the stage for more political and legal battles.