South Korea and Japan end trade dispute as leaders meet in Tokyo for landmark talks

South Korea and Japan have agreed to drop a trade dispute over high-tech materials as the leaders of the two countries met in Tokyo on Thursday for landmark talks.

The move to drop the four-year-long dispute came as Yoon Suk-yeol became the first South Korean president to visit Japan in 12 years as he met prime minister Fumio Kishida.

They were holding talks in the face of renewed threats from North Korea with its frequent missile launches, including the firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) hours before Mr Yoon landed.

The missile was launched from Pyongyang’s Sunan area and took 70 minutes to fly about 1,000km before falling into the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. It was North Korea’s third weapons test this week.

South Korea’s trade ministry said that Japan will remove curbs imposed in 2019 on its exports to South Korea of critical materials for smartphone displays and chips.

Seoul meanwhile will drop a World Trade Organisation (WTO) complaint against Tokyo.

The decision is being seen as a step by the two countries to develop regional unity and cooperation on supply chains while leaving behind years of animosity sparked by Japan’s 1910-45 occupation of the Korean peninsula.

Relations between the two countries have been strained over wartime labour issues along with disputed islands and Korean women and girls being forced to work in wartime brothels.

“There is an increasing need for [South] Korea and Japan to cooperate in this time,” Mr Yoon said in an interview, calling supply chain disruptions and North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats a “polycrisis”.

Mr Yoon and Mr Kishida have promised to resume “shuttle diplomacy” to increase meetings between the leaders.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Beijing opposes certain countries attempting to form exclusive circles. He added that China, Japan and South Korea are important trade partners.

Additional reporting by agencies