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President’s office confirms Kishida’s visit to Seoul

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Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida hold a joint press conference after their bilateral summit in Tokyo on March 16. [YONHAP]
Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida hold a joint press conference after their bilateral summit in Tokyo on March 16. [YONHAP]

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will make a two-day visit to Korea over Sunday and Monday to meet with President Yoon Suk Yeol, the Korean presidential office announced Tuesday.

The working visit comes after Yoon invited Kishida to visit Seoul during his bilateral trip to Tokyo in March and marks the resumption of regular summit diplomacy between the two countries’ leaders. The prime minister will be accompanied by Japanese first lady Yuko Kishida.

This will mark the first bilateral visit by a Japanese leader in 12 years, since Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s visit to Seoul in October 2011 to meet with then-President Lee Myung-bak.

The trip comes ahead of the Group of 7 summit to be hosted by Japan in Hiroshima later this month. Korea has been invited to attend the G7 summit by Kishida as a guest country.

Kishida also told reporters in Ghana on Tuesday that he is planning to make a two-day visit to Korea to meet with Yoon, Japan’s Kyodo News reported.

Kyodo quoted the prime minister as saying that he expects a visit to Seoul, if it comes before the G7 summit, “will be a great opportunity to give impetus to our ‘shuttle diplomacy'” and have a “frank exchange” of views on accelerating bilateral ties and the drastically changing global situation.”

Yoon has recently engaged in a flurry of diplomatic activity, including his bilateral summit with Kishida in Tokyo on March 16 and his state visit to the United States to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden last week.

Seoul and Tokyo have been working to put back on track bilateral relations that have deteriorated over historical disputes stemming from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule and a trade spat. Those efforts have been welcomed by Washington, which has pushed for stronger trilateral coordination to better respond to North Korean threats.

In late 2018, the Korean Supreme Court ordered Japanese companies to individually compensate the victims of forced labor during World War II. Japan imposed export restrictions on three key materials essential to Korea’s semiconductor and display production in 2019, widely seen as retaliation for the forced labor rulings. Tokyo also removed Korea from its so-called “white list” of trusted trading partners, a move returned by Seoul.

In March, the Yoon government announced a plan to compensate victims of Japan’s wartime forced labor through a Korea-backed public foundation, without set contributions from Japanese companies, a move protested by some victims and civic groups.

This led to Yoon’s bilateral visit to Tokyo, during which Yoon said that it is in both countries’ national interests to normalize relations to better respond to security issues, including North Korea.

Through their summit in March, Korea also formally normalized the General Security of Military Information Agreement, or Gsomia, a bilateral military intelligence-sharing pact that was almost terminated by Seoul in 2019 in response to Tokyo’s trade curbs. This comes as a part of efforts to better share information on North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats and respond to them.

In their upcoming meeting, Yoon and Kishida are expected to follow up on their summit talks in Tokyo, including focusing on their cooperation and responses to North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.

Japan could also announce a reinstatement of Korea to its top-tier “white list” of countries to be given preferential export treatment.

Korea added Japan back to its own white list last month.

Last Wednesday, Yoon and Biden adopted a joint statement during their bilateral summit in Washington, which emphasized the importance of trilateral cooperation “guided by shared values, driven by innovation, and committed to shared prosperity and security.”

Biden welcomed Yoon’s “bold steps toward improving” Korea-Japan relations and extended strong support for expanding such collaboration, “which opens the door to deeper trilateral cooperation on regional and economic security.”

A senior U.S. official told reporters Monday that Yoon, Biden and Kishida are expected to hold a trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G7 summit.

On his Tokyo trip, Yoon had been accompanied by first lady, Kim Keon-hee, who had an opportunity to build friendly ties with the Japanese first lady. The Kishidas’ trip from Sunday could provide opportunities for similar events to promote friendship.

“Similar events to promote friendship can be expected,” a senior presidential official told reporters Tuesday. “They may not be in the same format, but ones that will be suited for this situation.”

The official said that the agenda for the upcoming summit could include overarching bilateral matters, North Korea, regional and international issues and other areas of mutual interest.

“There are many pending issues between South Korea and Japan, but the most important ones are security and economic cooperation,” the official said.

Ahead of Kishida’s visit, National Security Adviser Cho Tae-yong will hold a meeting with Japanese National Security Secretariat Secretary General Takeo Akiba on Wednesday, who will be making a two-day trip to Seoul through Thursday.

The presidential office said Tuesday that this will be the first visit by Japan’s national security chief to Korea since 2014. The two sides will also hold a meeting to begin a bilateral National Security Council economic security dialogue, as agreed upon in the bilateral summit in March, “to strengthen cooperation between Korea and Japan in areas such as supply chains and advanced technology.”

Late Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe previously visited Korea to attend the PyeongChang Olympics in February 2018.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]