​Leaders of Japan and South Korea Vow to Deepen Ties

“Kishida, as expected, made a reference to the past that lacked clarity,” said Lee Junghwan, an expert in Korea-Japan relations at Seoul National University, after the summit meeting. “He was playing it safe, mindful of his domestic audience in Japan but also not saying anything that would provoke South Koreans.”

The last time a Japanese leader visited South Korea, the relationship was so bad that the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, remained pointedly seated during a standing ovation as North and South Korean Olympians marched together during the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018.

Mr. Kishida, traveling amid a more amicable mood, has said he wants to “add momentum” to the improving relations. But few analysts believed that decades-long tensions would disappear easily, given political pressure at home for both leaders.

“More than 90 percent of our bilateral relationship is domestic politics,” said Kunihiko Miyake, a former Japanese diplomat. “So South Koreans cannot pardon us. They will continue to pressure us, and they want to maintain these sort of relations forever by moving the goal posts.”

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