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S. Korea, Japan business leaders call for "future-oriented" ties

Masakazu Tokura, center left, chairman of the Japan Business Federation, and Huh Chang Soo, center right, chairman of the Federation of Korean Industries, attend a meeting in Seoul on July 4, 2022. (Kyodo)

SEOUL (Kyodo) -- Business leaders of South Korea and Japan agreed Monday to deepen cooperation as part of efforts to build "future-oriented" relations between the two neighbors.

    The Federation of Korean Industries and the Japan Business Federation made the agreement in a meeting in Seoul -- the first in nearly three years due to the coronavirus pandemic -- as South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol has been calling for improved ties with Japan.

    "We agreed on deepening cooperation to build a future-oriented relationship, while watching pending issues that had happened after signing a joint statement in 1998," the business leaders said in a joint statement issued after the meeting.

    The chiefs of the FKI and the Japanese lobby, better known as Keidanren, advocated an active role by the private sector to improve bilateral ties based on the spirit of a 1998 joint statement signed between then South Korean President Kim Dae Jung and then Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi.

    The business leaders also agreed on the importance of normalizing private-sector exchanges by resuming visa exemptions between the two countries that have been limited due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19.

    As Russia's war against Ukraine has destabilized situations in the Indo-Pacific region and the broader world, it is vital for Seoul and Tokyo -- two countries that share universal values such as democracy and market economy -- to maintain and develop bilateral ties, which the statement said would contribute to peace and stability in Northeast Asia.

    South Korean business leaders asked for support of their Japanese counterparts in Seoul's bid to join the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership, according to Yonhap News Agency.

    The TPP, or the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership as it is formally known, is an 11-member free trade agreement involving Japan, Australia, Canada, Singapore and other regional economies.

    Speaking at the meeting, FKI Chairman Huh Chang Soo said, "We must upgrade the declaration, which looks to the future instead of the past, and emphasizes cooperation in all fields, to fit the present."

    Huh was referring to the Kim-Obuchi statement.

    Seoul-Tokyo ties, however, have been frayed due to wartime issues stemming from the 1910-1945 Japanese colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, followed by Japan's export curbs against South Korea which weighed on their economic cooperation.

    Yoon, who had several encounters with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during his attendance at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit last week, has been showing strong willingness to improve ties with Japan.

    The two business organizations have had regular meetings since 1983, while the last meeting was held in Tokyo in 2019.

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