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TOKYO (Reuters) – Yoon Suk Yeol arrives in Tokyo on Thursday on the first visit to Japan by a South Korean president in 12 years, seeking a closer relationship amid a perceived increase in regional threats from North Korea and China.

Yoon will meet Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in the afternoon when the two are expected to present a united front as they seek to put behind years of animosity arising from Japan’s 1910-1945 occupation of the Korean peninsula.

Talks between the two are likely to focus on North Korea and regional security, as well as cooperation to secure supply chains.

“There is an increasing need for (South) Korea and Japan to cooperate in this time,” Yoon said in a written interview with international media including Reuters, calling both North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats and supply chain disruptions a “polycrisis”.

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Yoon has said that he expects to “invigorate” security cooperation and the two leaders are preparing to confirm the restart of a bilateral security dialogue which has been suspended since 2018, according to Japanese broadcaster NHK.

Tokyo and Seoul are also expected to revive “shuttle diplomacy” of regular visits between the leaders, according to a Yomiuri daily report citing Japanese government sources.

Still, Japan remains cautious about any immediate improvements in relations, with a Japanese government official who requested anonymity saying that “Japan and South Korea relations are looking up, but it’s still a step-by-step process”.

Relations between the two countries, which have frayed over disputed islands, wartime labour and Korean “comfort women” forced to work in Japanese wartime brothels, made headway last week when Seoul announced a plan for its companies to compensate former forced labourers.

China’s coast guard entered waters around disputed East China Sea islets on Wednesday to counter what it called the incursion of Japanese vessels into Chinese territorial waters.

Kishida welcomed the labour compensation move and spoke of hopes of “bolstering relations” with Yoon’s visit.

The two previously met in November on the sidelines of the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Cambodia.

South Korea and Japan at the time agreed to exchange real-time intelligence on North Korea’s missile launches, which experts say will help both countries better track potential threats.

Japan said the “strategic challenge posed by China is the biggest Japan has ever faced” in a defence strategy paper released in December. Tokyo worries that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has set a precedent that will encourage China to attack self-ruled Taiwan.

(Reporting by Sakura Murakami and Kaori Kaneko in Tokyo, Josh Smith in Seoul; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

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