Kishida likely to meet delegation sent by next South Korean president

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Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will likely meet next week with a delegation dispatched to Japan by South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, sources with knowledge of the plan said Friday.

The meeting, expected to take place as early as Monday, would give Kishida an opportunity to hear how the administration of Yoon, who is calling for a “future-oriented” approach, would seek to improve bilateral ties strained over issues related to wartime history.

Japan has maintained that the ball is in South Korea’s court to repair relations. The stance is based on the view that the issues of “comfort women” and compensation for wartime Korean laborers — both sources of diplomatic friction — have already been resolved by bilateral agreements.

“Comfort women” is a euphemism for women who suffered under Japan’s military brothel system before and during World War II.

Yoon’s delegation is expected to visit Japan from Sunday to Thursday for policy consultations with Japanese lawmakers, diplomats and business leaders before he is sworn in on May 10. Led by Chung Jin-suk, a member of Yoon’s People Power Party, the team also includes diplomatic experts.

Kishida and the delegation members may also discuss the possibility of the prime minister attending Yoon’s inauguration ceremony next month.

Arrangements are being made for Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi to meet with the delegation Monday, while former Prime Ministers Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga would also sit down for talks, the sources said.

Still, lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are divided over whether Kishida should go ahead with meeting the delegation.

Bilateral relations remain frosty over issues stemming from Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

Kishida, who was foreign minister at the time of a 2015 agreement that settled the comfort women issue “finally and irreversibly,” has expressed hope to improve ties under the Yoon administration as the bilateral relationship should be “healthy.”

Earlier this week, incoming South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin said the 2015 pact is “official,” adding that joint efforts by the two nations to “recover the honor and dignity of the victims” are most important.

The current government of Moon Jae-in described the pact as “seriously flawed,” sending ties with Japan to the lowest point in years.

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