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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Mari Yamguchi

Japanese ex-PM Aso to visit South Korea to improve ties

Kyodo News

Former Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso left for Seoul on Wednesday to meet with South Korean officials as the two countries try to improve ties that were badly strained by Japanese wartime atrocities.

At the center of the disputes between the two countries are South Korean court rulings in 2018 that ordered Japanese companies to compensate wartime forced Korean laborers. The Japanese government and the companies have refused to comply with the rulings, saying all compensation issues have been settled under the 1965 normalization treaty and accusing South Korea of violating the international law.

But ties have started showing signs of improvement since South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol's conservative government took power in May. As key Asian allies to the United States, having a strained relationship also poses a concern for their security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region as it faces growing threats from China and North Korea.

Gaffe-prone Aso is also known for his family business’ wartime use of forced laborers.

In 2008, wartime documents surfaced showing that Korean forced laborers were used at Aso's grandfather’s mine, from which he has distanced himself. Aso kept mum when Japan’s Health and Welfare Ministry acknowledged that other wartime documents showed that the Aso family mine in Fukuoka, southern Japan, also used 300 British, Dutch and Australian prisoners from April 1945 through Japan’s surrender four months later.

The trip comes days after a crowd surge in the South Korean capital Seoul killed over 150 people. President Yoon declared a national mourning period Sunday.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said Aso is not representing the government, but is visiting South Korea as the head of a non-partisan Japan-South Korea friendship organization made up of political and business representatives.

Aso declined to confirm reports he may be meeting with President Yoon, and Matsuno denied that Aso was carrying Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's letter to Yoon.

Another veteran ruling lawmaker, Fukushiro Nukaga, who heads a group of parliamentarians promoting friendship between the two neighbors, was also due to visit South Korea, Kyodo News agency reported.

Nukaga is expected to meet with Yoon on Friday, while media reports say Aso's meeting with the South Korean leader is also being arranged.

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