South Korea, Japan foreign ministers meet to tackle historical disputes

SEOUL, July 18 (Reuters) - South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin met in Tokyo on Monday with his Japanese counterpart, carrying a message of reconciliation in hopes that the neighbours can overcome historical disputes and repair strained ties.

Relations have been fraught for years over the bitter legacy of Japan's occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945. Disputes concern issues from wartime forced labour to export controls, but both nations have expressed interest in improving relations. read more

Park told Japan's Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi that he would try to resolve the forced labour issue before a ruling on compensation payments, with both ministers agreeing to find a quick solution, the Japanese foreign ministry said in a statement.

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Japanese officials say it is important to improve ties, but have looked to Seoul for proposals to resolve disputes including South Korean court orders to seize assets of Japanese companies accused of not compensating some colonial-era labourers.

South Korea's Supreme Court is expected to make a final decision on liquidating the assets in August or September, and Tokyo has warned of serious repercussions if the orders are enforced.

Park smiled as he bumped elbows at the meeting with Hayashi on his first trip to the Japanese capital since South Korea's new President Yoon Suk-yeol took office in May.

Speaking to reporters in Seoul before flying to Tokyo, Park described his trip as "very meaningful". He said he would tell the Japanese side that Yoon had a strong will to improve South Korea-Japan relations.

The meeting came against the backdrop of efforts by the United States to encourage both its key North Asian allies to mend ties and build co-operation on issues such as North Korea's missile and nuclear programmes and China's growing influence.

The two foreign ministers said they would cooperate further in dealing with North Korea and agreed to accelerate bilateral dialogue in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, according to Japan's foreign ministry.

They "agreed that the course of Japan-South Korea, and Japan-South Korea and U.S. cooperation has never been more critical," it said.

Hayashi and Park agreed to "resolutely respond to further North Korea provocations, while also keeping the door open for dialogue and promoting a flexible and open diplomatic approach," South Korea's foreign ministry said in a statement.

South Korean officials hoped the high-level visit would launch talks to secure a breakthrough in the disputes, despite concerns that the death of former Japanese premier Shinzo Abe could change Japan's policy priorities.

The trip aims at "turning on the tap" for serious talks on issues about forced labour, which stalled under Yoon's predecessor, a senior official handling Japan policy told Reuters last week. read more

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Reporting by Josh Smith; additional reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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