Abe, S Korean premier agree to keep talking to mend ties

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s Prime Minister and South Korea’s number two official agreed on the importance of improving ties but made no apparent breakthrough yesterday in the first high-level meeting since the neighbours’ relations nosedived over trade and history disputes.

South Korea’s Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon handed Shinzo Abe a letter from South Korean President Moon Jae-in during the talks. Lee attended Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement ceremony on Tuesday before meeting with Abe.

Lee is the most senior official after Moon but his role is largely ceremonial.

An official in Seoul said Moon’s personal letter congratulated Japan on the new imperial era of Reiwa and wished for an improvement in bilateral ties. Abe expressed his gratitude for the letter, according to South Korea’s first Vice Foreign Minister, Cho Sei-yong, who spoke in a television briefing after the meeting ended.

Cho said Lee and Abe agreed the two countries must improve their ties and that coordination between them and with Washington was important.

Lee called for promoting diverse communications and exchanges to try to resolve their frayed ties, Cho said.

Abe told Lee that such cooperation is crucial as they face North Korean nuclear and missile threats, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry. Abe said the currently strained relations should be mended, but Seoul should take the first step.

The meeting was closely monitored for signs of a thaw, but little progress was apparent except for an agreement to keep talking.

Still, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the talks were “meaningful” as the two sides exchanged views and reassured that their efforts are continuing.

Lee, who is known as a Japan expert, didn’t disclose more details about the talks as he left Abe’s office.