Japan’s Fumio Kishida to visit South Korea, in first such trip since 2018

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Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will visit South Korea next week, Japan’s foreign ministry said Tuesday, as the two US allies pursue warmer ties.

Kishida will hold talks on Sunday with President Yoon Suk Yeol on the first trip to South Korea by a Japanese premier since 2018.

It comes after the leaders agreed to end tit-for-tat trade curbs at a March summit in Tokyo, de-escalating a bitter dispute over Japan’s use of wartime forced labor.

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Japan’s foreign ministry and the South Korean presidential office both confirmed the May 7-8 trip after Kishida told reporters that it was being arranged.

He called the visit “a good opportunity to hold a candid exchange of opinions over accelerating Japan and South Korea's relationship, and the rapidly changing international situation.”

Kishida, who is on a tour of four African nations and Singapore, added that his trip to South Korea would “give momentum to 'shuttle diplomacy” between the neighbors.

The two leaders had pledged in March to restart regular mutual visits, a practice suspended for over a decade, and Kishida has invited Yoon to the G7 summit in Hiroshima later in May.

“Through Prime Minister Kishida's visit to Korea, shuttle diplomacy between the leaders will begin in earnest,” South Korea’s presidential office said in a statement.

Often-testy relations between the countries deteriorated after South Korea’s Supreme Court in 2018 ordered Japanese firms to compensate victims of forced labor in World War II.

But Yoon, who took office a year ago, has been keen to end the spat and form a united front against regional challenges including North Korea.

Earlier this year, Seoul announced a plan to pay those affected without Tokyo’s involvement.

In further efforts to thaw ties, Japan’s trade ministry said last week it had started the process to add South Korea back to a so-called “white list” of trusted trade partners, having downgraded it in 2019.

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