Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon left for Japan on Tuesday to attend the Japanese emperor's enthronement ceremony amid frayed ties between South Korea and Japan over the issue of Tokyo's wartime forced labor.
Lee embarked on a three-day trip to Tokyo, whose itinerary includes a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday.
In his official first schedule, Lee will attend Emperor Naruhito's enthronement event set for 1 p.m. at the palace. A banquet dinner is also scheduled for later in the day.
Lee is expected to voice the government's commitment to improving ties with Japan during the meeting with Abe, officials said.
Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon (Yonhap)
Seoul's foreign ministry said Monday it has sent a draft of a letter that will be delivered to Abe to the presidential office for review ahead of Lee's trip.
The talks would mark the first high-level meeting between the two nations since Japan has protested the South Korean top court's 2018 orders for Japanese firms to compensate Korean victims of Tokyo's forced labor during the 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
Since July, Japan has imposed export curbs against its neighbor in apparent retaliation for the Korean court's rulings. In August, it removed the South from the "whitelist" of countries subject to preferential trade status.
Experts and government officials hope that Lee's trip could pave the way for the two nations to mend the soured relations and set the tone for President Moon Jae-in and Abe to hold a summit this year.
During the trip, Lee plans to meet a wide range of politicians and business leaders, as well as young Japanese people.
Lee is scheduled on Wednesday to meet Natsuo Yamaguchi, chief of the Komeito party, junior coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party; Yukio Edano, head of the Constitutional Democratic Party; and former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, president of the organizing committee for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
To pay tribute, he will visit the monument honoring Lee Soo-hyun on Tuesday, a Korean hero who died trying to rescue a drunk Japanese man who had fallen onto the subway tracks in Tokyo in 2001. The late Lee is regarded as a symbol of friendly ties between the two nations.
Also a town-hall meeting is scheduled for Wednesday with around 20 Japanese college students to discuss bilateral relations between the two countries. (Yonhap)