HIROSHIMA, May 21 — Japan and South Korea’s leaders made a historic visit today to a memorial for Koreans killed in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, as long-frosty ties between the neighbours warm.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his South Korean counterpart Yoon Suk-yeol, joined by their wives, laid white bouquets at the stone memorial and bowed side-by-side at the site.

The visit came on the sidelines of the G7 summit, to which Japan has invited several non-member nations, including South Korea.

It is the first time leaders of the two countries have jointly visited the memorial, and only the second time a Japanese prime minister has done so.

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“This will be remembered as a courageous action by Prime Minister Kishida that paves the way for a peaceful future while expressing grief for the Korean victims of the atomic bombing,” Yoon said at the top of a bilateral meeting after the memorial visit.

It is the latest step in their careful diplomatic dance to achieve a long-awaited thaw in ties.

Tokyo and Seoul, both key US allies, have long been at odds over issues related to Japan’s brutal 1910-1945 colonial rule of Korea, including sexual slavery and forced labour.

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But Yoon and Kishida have made active efforts to restore soured ties since Seoul announced a plan to compensate those affected by wartime forced labour, without Tokyo’s involvement.

They have resumed regular high-level talks, with Yoon in Tokyo in April and Kishida travelling to Seoul earlier this month, where he said his “heart aches” for Koreans who suffered under colonialism.

The two leaders have faced criticism and scepticism from conservatives at home for their engagements.

But Kishida’s remark in Seoul “significantly resonated among the public” in South Korea, Yoon said on Sunday.

His “courage and decision to show a genuine and heartfelt attitude is very important,” he added.

Kishida also welcomed the thaw in ties and said the stepped-up pace of meetings “demonstrates the progress of the Japan-South Korea relationship.” — AFP