Will Korea, Japan be able to reset fraught ties?

Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi's visit to attend President Yoon Suk-yeol's inauguration will be the first visit by a Japanese foreign minister to Seoul in four years.

Jo He-rim

Jo He-rim

The Korea Herald


Japan’s Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi attends a news conference with his Polish counterpart Zbigniew Rau in Warsaw, Poland on April 4. (Yonhap)

May 10, 2022

SEOUL – A Japanese foreign minister arrived in South Korea for the first time in four years on Monday ahead of the presidential inauguration ceremony for Yoon Suk-yeol, raising hopes for possible improvements in relations with the incoming conservative administration.

According to Yoon’s office, Japan’s Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi is traveling to Seoul for two days from Monday, and will attend the inauguration ceremony on behalf of the Japanese government on Tuesday.

On Monday, Hayashi was to meet with the South Korean Foreign Minister nominee Rep. Park Jin for dinner and discuss pending issues between the two countries.

Four-term lawmaker Park has been tapped as the foreign minister for the incoming Yoon Suk-yeol administration, and awaits confirmation from the National Assembly.

Citing local news reports in Japan, Yoon’s office said Hayashi is expected to deliver a personal letter from the Japanese prime minister to Yoon during the trip.

Yoon had also sent a delegation team to Japan and delivered a personal letter to Kishida last month.

This is the first visit by a Japanese foreign minister to Seoul in four years. The last visit was in June 2018, when then-Foreign Minister Taro Kono made the trip to Seoul.

The ties between the neighboring countries have been fraught, as the two stand at odds over several issues related to Japan’s coercion of Koreans into labor and sexual slavery during the colonization period.

A South Korean court’s order to a Japanese company to sell off its assets to provide compensation to Korean victims of wartime forced labor has also come to exacerbate the relationship.

However, the start of a new administration here is raising hopes for improvement.

While delivering his congratulations to Yoon, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the problems the two neighboring countries face should be resolved.

Kishida on Monday emphasized the importance of bilateral and trilateral cooperation between South Korea, Japan and the US “as we face crises that can shake up the roots of international society.”

“South Korea and Japan have difficult problems (that need to be solved), and we cannot just leave them unattended,” Kishida added.

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