• Kyodo, staff report

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South Korea’s sports minister indicated Friday that President Moon Jae-in may visit Japan to attend the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics later this month, expressing hope for a meeting between the leaders of the two countries on the occasion.

Hwang Hee, minister of culture, sports and tourism, told foreign media outlets in Seoul that it would be meaningful even if Moon and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga “just met.” Hwang said his Japan visit has already been scheduled.

Bilateral ties have sunk to the lowest level in decades, largely over issues arising from Japan’s colonization of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945. Japanese and South Korean leaders have not held summit talks since late 2019.

Suga and Moon merely exchanged greetings at the Group of Seven summit event in Britain in June.

South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported Friday that Moon is considering a two-day stay in Tokyo from July 23, when the opening event will be held. The report cited a South Korean government official.

Japanese Foreign Ministry officials said Moon’s visit has not been fixed yet.

A Suga-Moon meeting, if realized, would be the countries’ first summit talks since December 2019, when Suga’s predecessor, Shinzo Abe, met with Moon in China.

The prime minister, when asked at a news conference on Thursday if he will meet with Moon, said, “It’s natural to treat (him) in a polite manner in light of diplomatic protocols.”

Moon’s planned visit to Japan would be the first since he participated in the Group of 20 summit in Osaka in June 2019.

Tokyo-Seoul relations have sunk to their lowest point in decades following South Korean Supreme Court rulings in 2018 that ordered Japanese companies to compensate plaintiffs who were laborers during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

Relations worsened in January when the Seoul Central District Court ordered the Japanese government to pay damages over the treatment of “comfort women.”

Comfort women is a euphemism for those who suffered under Japan’s military brothel system before and during World War II. They were forced or coerced into sexual servitude under various circumstances, including abduction, deception and poverty.

Japan takes the position that a 1965 bilateral agreement settled all claims related to its colonial rule of the peninsula, including those of the laborers and former comfort women.

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