S. Korea’s foreign minister flies to Japan for talks on historic disputes

SEOUL, July 18 (Reuters) – South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin visited Tokyo on Monday, saying he was carrying a message of reconciliation from new President Yoon Suk-yeol, who hopes overcome historical differences and restore strained ties with Japan.

Ties have been strained for years over the bitter legacy of Japan’s occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945. Disputes range from wartime forced labor to export controls, but both countries have expressed interest to improve their relationships.

On his first trip to the Japanese capital since Yoon took office in May, Park is expected to meet his counterpart, Yoshimasa Hayashi, later on Monday.

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Speaking to reporters at the airport, Park said he would tell the Japanese side that Yoon has a strong desire to improve relations between South Korea and Japan, a TV broadcast showed.

The United States, which has separate alliances with the two countries, has pressured South Korea and Japan to tighten their ties to ensure better cooperation on issues such as North Korea and China.

South Korean officials hope the high-level visit will launch talks to ensure a breakthrough in the differences, despite fears that the death of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could change Japan’s political priorities.

The trip aims to “open the tap” for serious discussions on forced labor issues, which were stalled under Yoon’s predecessor, a senior Japanese policy official told Reuters last week.

Japanese officials also say it is important to improve relations, but they are looking to Seoul for proposals to resolve disputes such as South Korean court orders to seize the assets of Japanese companies accused of not compensate certain workers of the colonial era.

South Korea’s Supreme Court is expected to issue a final ruling on the asset liquidation in August or September, and Tokyo has warned of serious repercussions if the orders are enforced.

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Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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