President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida agreed Sunday to allow a group of South Korean experts to visit Japan later this month to inspect the planned release of radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant.
The agreement, announced following a summit in Seoul, is seen as a goodwill gesture by Japan amid warming relations between the two countries, as South Koreans remain concerned about the water release despite ongoing monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"With regard to the contaminated water from Fukushima, we agreed on the dispatch of an on-site inspection team of South Korean experts," Yoon said during a joint press conference at the presidential office.
"I hope a meaningful step will be achieved in consideration of our people's demands for a science-based and objective inspection," he said.
Kishida said he is well aware of South Koreans' concerns over the planned water release this summer but vowed to do his best as Japan's prime minister to ensure it causes no harm to the health of both nations' peoples.
"I decided to accept the dispatch of an on-site inspection team of South Korean experts this month so that the South Korean people may understand this issue," he said.
The two leaders met in Seoul for their second summit in less than two months, a highly symbolic meeting demonstrating the neighboring nations are firmly on course to the full restoration of long-frayed relations.
Bilateral relations have warmed significantly following Seoul's decision in March to compensate Korean victims of Japanese wartime forced labor without contributions from Japanese firms.
Yoon traveled to Tokyo 10 days after the decision was announced and held a summit with Kishida as the first South Korean president to pay a bilateral visit to Japan in 12 years.
Kishida's visit is also the first bilateral visit by a Japanese leader in 12 years, marking the full-scale resumption of "shuttle diplomacy," or regular mutual visits, as agreed between Yoon and Kishida during their summit in Tokyo in March.
Kishida said the Japanese government's commitment to inheriting past administrations' positions on the two countries' shared history is "unwavering," referring, among other things, to a 1998 joint declaration that expressed remorse for the "horrendous damage and pain" Japan's colonial rule inflicted on the Korean people.
He also referred to Koreans forced to work at Japanese mines and factories during Tokyo's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
"My heart aches over the fact that many people had an extremely painful and sad experience in harsh conditions at the time," he said.
When asked by a reporter if his words were directed at the Korean forced labor victims, Kishida said he was honestly expressing his "own personal thoughts" about the people who had the difficult experience.
Yoon reaffirmed that Seoul's solution to the forced labor row will not change, calling it "the only solution" that satisfies both a 1965 agreement that normalized bilateral ties and the 2018 South Korean Supreme Court rulings that ordered Japanese firms to pay compensation to the victims.
The summit was first held in a small group and then in an expanded format, covering issues such as security, high-tech industries, science and technology, and cooperation on youth and cultural affairs.
Yoon said he and Kishida shared the understanding that North Korea's nuclear and missile development poses a serious threat to peace and stability not only on the Korean Peninsula and in Japan, but also in the world.
He said he will visit Hiroshima, Japan, later this month to attend a summit of the Group of Seven (G-7) at Kishida's invitation and together visit a memorial for Korean victims of the 1945 atomic bombing in the city.
Yoon and Kishida also plan to hold a trilateral summit with U.S. President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the G-7 gathering.
Yoon said he and Kishida agreed to continue trilateral security cooperation, noting that talks are under way to flesh out an agreement the three leaders reached in November to share warning data on incoming North Korean missiles in real time.
He also said the two agreed to work closely together to realize South Korea's Indo-Pacific strategy centered on freedom, peace and prosperity, and Japan's vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific.
Yoon left open the possibility of Japan's future participation in the Washington Declaration, an agreement he adopted with U.S. President Joe Biden last month, which outlines measures to strengthen the U.S. "extended deterrence" commitment to defending South Korea with all of its military capabilities, including nuclear weapons.
"We do not rule out Japan's participation," he said. "The Washington Declaration is not completed, and we have to fill in the details by continuing discussions, and in the process of carrying out joint planning and joint execution."
Kishida arrived in Seoul earlier in the day for a two-day working visit and stopped at Seoul National Cemetery to pay his respects to Korea's fallen independence activists and war veterans before heading to the presidential office.
Upon arrival, he was greeted by Yoon in an official arrival ceremony that included the playing of the two countries' national anthems and a joint honor guard review.
Following the summit, Yoon and Kishida had dinner at the official presidential residence, where they were joined by first lady Kim Keon Hee and Kishida's wife, Yuko.
On the menu was an array of Korean dishes, including a rib stew made from Korean beef, bulgogi (grilled marinated beef) and cold buckwheat noodles, according to the presidential office.
To drink, cheongju, a refined rice wine, was offered.
On Monday, Kishida is scheduled to hold meetings with members of a South Korea-Japan parliamentarians' association and chiefs of South Korea's six business lobbies, including SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won, who is now heading the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, according to industry sources.
He will then depart to return to Tokyo.
Source: Yonhap News Agency