(Tokyo) The Japanese and Korean leaders, meeting Thursday to try to warm up ties undermined in recent years by historic disputes, agreed to revive their diplomatic and trade relations and present a united front against North Korea.

“We agreed that strengthening relations between Japan and South Korea is urgent in the current context,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said after his meeting in Tokyo with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, unpublished to this level for 12 years.

Yoon’s visit “is a big step towards normalizing relations” between the two countries, he added.

This meeting was part of the extension of the Seoul plan presented at the beginning of March to compensate South Koreans subjected to forced labor by Japan during the first half of the 20th century.

Further progress towards reconciliation was announced on Thursday, with the two countries deciding to resuscitate their “shuttle diplomacy”, a mechanism for regular meetings between their leaders, interrupted since December 2011.

Japan will also lift its restrictions on the export of semiconductor materials to South Korea, which it had introduced in 2019, and Seoul will withdraw its complaint on this file before the World Trade Organization (WTO). ).

North Korea marked this summit in its own way, by firing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) which crashed in the Sea of ​​Japan a few hours before the South Korean president’s arrival in Tokyo.

Emphasizing “the ever-increasing nuclear threat posed by North Korea to peace and stability,” Yoon said Tokyo and Seoul should “cooperate closely” to “wisely confront these illegal threats and the challenges facing the international community” as a whole.

The leader, who could also be invited by Mr. Kishida to the G7 Summit in May in Hiroshima, made restoring ties with Tokyo a top priority upon his election a year ago.

But the past weighs heavily on their relations, marked by the dark period of Japanese colonization of the Korean peninsula (1910-1945), and in particular the so-called question of Korean “comfort women”, these sexual slaves of Japanese soldiers during the Second World War. World War.

A 2018 South Korean court ruling ordering some Japanese companies to pay compensation for forced labor during the occupation plunged bilateral relations into a new crisis.

Japan believes so far that the historic dispute has been settled since 1965 by the normalization of bilateral relations, in particular via a package of loans and financial aid granted by Tokyo to Seoul.

The rise to power of Mr. Yoon and the growing concerns caused by repeated provocations by Pyongyang and China’s growing regional ambitions, however, have revived hopes for detente between the two neighboring democracies.

“Dramatic changes are affecting international relations,” notes Yuki Asaba of Doshisha University, and this “makes it all the more urgent for the United States, Japan, and South Korea to coordinate” and build capacity. of deterrence, according to this professor of Korean studies interviewed by AFP.

MM. Yoon and Kishida were expected to continue their talks over dinner on Thursday evening, with Japanese media reporting that Mr. Yoon had expressed a wish to taste “omurice”, a Japanese family dish consisting of an omelette over rice.

For Professor Park Won-gon of Ewha University in Seoul, however, the future of their relationship will depend on “the degree to which Prime Minister Kishida is willing to apologize” for Japan’s past crimes.

Tokyo has said it stands by its historic apologies made in the 1990s for wartime acts, but many in South Korea say they are insufficient and criticize Yoon’s compensation plan.

The rapprochement between Seoul and Tokyo has however been hailed internationally, in particular by Washington, anxious to see its two closest Asian allies reconcile.

For Mr. Asaba, Mr. Yoon’s concessions to Japan are partly motivated by his desire to get closer to Washington, with whom he wants an alliance “of a more comprehensive, comprehensive and strategic nature” in the economic, security or political fields. technological.