TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his South Korean counterpart Lee Nak Yon agreed Thursday to maintain dialogue between their governments despite a bitter feud over wartime history that has led to a tit-for-tat trade spat.
The leaders’ meeting in Tokyo had been closely watched for signs of detente. Lee, who was visiting Japan for Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement ceremony, handed Abe a letter from South Korean President Moon Jae In, though he did not disclose its contents to reporters.
Japan regards South Korea as an “important neighbor” and believes that the two countries must not allow their relations to deteriorate, but first Seoul must “keep its promises” to create an environment to return to healthy ties, Abe told Lee, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.
Emotions have often reached fever pitch over Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 through the end of World War II in 1945, and disagreements over how to make amends.
Relations dived sharply after South Korea’s top court last year ordered Japanese companies to pay reparations for forced labor, despite Tokyo’s claim the issue was settled by a 1965 agreement under which it provided Seoul with $500 million for “economic cooperation.”
The court decisions outraged Japan, leading Tokyo to remove Seoul from a list of trusted trade partners and impose stricter export controls on some key materials needed by South Korea’s tech industry.
South Korea retaliated by scratching Japan from its own list of trusted partners.
Seoul also said it will terminate a military intelligence-sharing pact with Tokyo that helps them counter missile threats from North Korea. The General Security of Military Information Agreement, or GSOMIA, is set to expire in November.
Abe stressed to Lee the importance of trilateral cooperation with their mutual ally the United States to address issues surrounding North Korea, the Foreign Ministry said.
The two leaders also shared the importance of keeping people-to-people exchanges amid the strained ties, it added.
As bilateral relations sink to the lowest point in decades, the visit by Lee — who lived in Japan for several years as a news correspondent and speaks the language — had been viewed as an opportunity for detente.