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Japan's Suga hopes for 'forward-looking' ties in letter to South Korea's Moon

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga meets the press at the prime minister's official residence after speaking on the phone with U.S. President Donald Trump at their first conversation since Suga took office, in Tokyo, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 20, 2020. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

SEOUL (Reuters) - Japan’s new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has expressed hopes for improved relations in a letter to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Moon’s office said on Monday, amid strained ties over history and trade.

Feuds dating back to Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of Korea continue to dog bilateral relations, including the issues of Korean labourers forced to work at Japanese firms and women at military brothels during World War II.

The ties further soured after South Korea’s Supreme Court ordered a Japanese steelmaker to pay compensation for forced labour in 2018, which prompted Tokyo to impose export curbs on some key high-tech materials.

In a letter delivered to Moon on Saturday, Suga underscored the need for cooperation between the two neighbours, Moon’s spokesman Kang Min-seok said.

“Prime Minister Suga in particular said he hoped the two countries overcome difficult issues and build a forward-looking relationship,” Kang told a briefing.

Moon also sent a congratulatory letter to Suga last week, saying he was willing to sit down anytime to improve relations and foster diplomatic, economic and people-to-people exchanges.

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Tomasz Janowski