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South Korean and Japanese Leaders to Meet in Tokyo This Week

FILE - Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, right, shakes hands with South Korea's President Yoon Suk Yeol during the ASEAN - East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Nov. 13, 2022.

The leaders of South Korea and Japan will hold a summit later this week in Tokyo as they attempt to repair a relationship strained by old wounds from Japan’s brutal occupation of the peninsula in the first half of the 20th century.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol will meet Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kushida Thursday on the first day of President Yoon’s two-day visit to Japan. It will be the first official visit to Japan by a South Korean president since 2011.

The visit comes days after Yoon’s government announced a plan to raise local civilian funds to compensate Koreans who won damages from Japanese companies that enslaved them during Japan’s occupation of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. Hundreds of thousands of Koreans were mobilized as forced laborers for Japanese companies, or sex slaves at Tokyo’s military-run brothels during World War II.

The two countries relations deteriorated further after South Korea’s Supreme Court in 2018 ordered two Japanese companies — Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries — to compensate former Korean forced laborers or their relatives.

Tokyo has insisted that all reparations were settled by the 1965 treaty that normalized relations between the two countries and provided millions of dollars in economic aid to South Korea.

The compensation plan reflects Yoon’s determination to mend frayed ties with Japan and solidify trilateral Seoul-Tokyo-Washington security cooperation to better cope with North Korea’s nuclear threats.

But it sparked an immediate backlash from former forced laborers and their supporters, who are demanding direct compensation from the Japanese companies.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.