(ATTN: UPDATES with more details of summit; ADDS photo)
By Lee Haye-ah
HIROSHIMA, Japan, May 21 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida paid tribute to Korean victims of the 1945 Hiroshima atomic bombing Sunday, an unprecedented move demonstrating their commitment to improving bilateral ties.
The two leaders made a joint visit to a cenotaph honoring the Korean victims at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, marking the first visit by a South Korean president and the first joint visit by leaders of the two countries. Yoon was joined by first lady Kim Keon Hee, while Kishida was joined by his wife, Yuko.
Around 50,000 Koreans fell victim to the atomic bombing, including 30,000 killed, after many were brought to Japan to work as forced laborers during its 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, according to the Korea Atomic Bombs Victim Association.
Yoon, who arrived in Hiroshima on Friday to attend a Group of Seven summit, met with a group of Korean survivors that day.
The cenotaph was erected in 1970 with the funding of Korean residents in Japan and was initially located outside the park. In 1999, it was relocated to its current spot at the request of Korean residents and Japanese civic groups.
Bilateral relations have warmed significantly following South Korea's decision in March to compensate Korean victims of Japanese wartime forced labor on its own without asking for contributions from Japanese firms.
Yoon visited Tokyo in March for a summit with Kishida and the Japanese prime minister reciprocated earlier this month with a visit to Seoul, resuming so-called shuttle diplomacy between the two countries' leaders after 12 years.
After paying tribute, the two leaders held a summit, their third in two months.
"Our joint visit conveys our tribute to the Korean A-bomb victims and, at the same time, will be remembered as a courageous act by the prime minister to prepare for a peaceful future," Yoon said in opening remarks at the summit.
Recalling Kishida's remark during a trip to Seoul that his "heart aches" to think of forced labor victims, Yoon said the remark "resonated greatly" with the South Korean people and represents Kishida's courage and determination to show a sincere attitude.
Yoon also said he hopes cooperation between the two countries will further deepen on economic security and other global agenda based on the result of the G-7 summit.
Kishida said in his opening comments that the joint visit to the cenotaph is "very important" for Korea-Japan relations and in wishing for world peace.
He also said the two leaders holding their third summit in about two months clearly demonstrates progress in relations between the two countries and that he hopes to discuss with Yoon ways to further strengthen cooperation on global issues.
During the meeting held behind closed doors, the two leaders noted the bilateral relationship is at a turning point across all sectors, including foreign policy, national security, the economy, industry and science, and called for close cooperation at every level in order to produce detailed achievements, according to presidential spokesperson Lee Do-woon.
Yoon proposed the two countries resume direct flights between South Korea and Hiroshima, among other routes, as well as the smooth operation of the South Korea-Japan future partnership fund established ahead of their March summit, and increased cooperation on supply chains and cutting-edge technologies.
The two leaders stressed the importance of a free and open international order, and also agreed to further bolster trilateral cooperation with the United States against the heightened threat of North Korea's nuclear and missile program.
Lee added that Yoon and Kishida agreed to continue shuttle diplomacy in the future at every opportunity.
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