(LEAD) Yoon says improved relations between S. Korea, Japan are people’s will

President Yoon Suk Yeol said Friday that the increasing pace of exchanges between South Korea and Japan shows it is the will of both countries' people to improve and develop the bilateral relationship, according to his office.

Yoon made the remark while meeting with members of the Korea-Japan Friendship Association and the Japan-Korea Friendship Association, who are set to hold a joint conference later in the day to mark the 25th anniversary of a key declaration that called for overcoming the unfortunate past of Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, and building new relations.

The 1998 joint declaration, which was adopted by former President Kim Dae-jung and former Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, also contained Obuchi's expression of remorse for the "horrendous damage and pain" Japan's colonial rule inflicted on the Korean people.

"The president noted that visits and people-to-people exchanges between the two countries are quickly recovering following the COVID-19 pandemic, and said this is evidence that the improvement and development of South Korea-Japan relations are the wish and will of the two countries' peoples," the presidential office said in a press release.

Yoon also said he believes the two countries will be able to "open a new future over and beyond the period when South Korea-Japan relations were at their best, if they have exchanges, cooperate and build trust."

The president asked the two associations to continue to play a role in promoting mutual understanding and friendly relations between the two countries, including between their provinces and young generations.

The Korea-Japan Friendship Association is led by former South Korean Ambassador to Tokyo Yoo Heung-soo, while the Japan-Korea Friendship Association is headed by former Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura.

During the meeting, Kawamura and other leaders of the association said the effects of improved South Korea-Japan relations are being felt closely by the Japanese people.

They also promised to continually work to improve the bilateral relationship, citing the need for more exchanges between the younger generations, including by possibly resuming a bilateral school trip program.

Yoon's emphasis on the Seoul-Tokyo cooperation was echoed in a conference co-hosted by the two associations later in the day.

"I and Prime Minister Kishida deeply share the understanding that bilateral cooperation is very important for responding to a global polycrisis," he said in the congratulatory speech, delivered by Foreign Minister Park Jin on his behalf, calling Japan "the closest neighbor and partner" that his country works closely with on regional and global issues.

Taking note of the array of summits the two leaders had this year alone, Yoon highlighted the importance of continued communication between the two sides to move the relations forward, especially the need to further promote people-to-people exchanges.

"Communicating with each other will lay solid ground for deepening mutual understanding and promoting friendly cooperation," Yoon said.

Kishida, in a speech delivered on his behalf by Japanese Ambassador to Seoul Koichi Aiboshi, also called for a stronger partnership between the two countries, saying he is "willing" to work together with Yoon to "open a new era" of partnership.

South Korea-Japan relations have improved significantly under Yoon, after his administration decided in March to compensate Korean victims of Japanese wartime forced labor without asking for contributions from the Japanese companies involved.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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