Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is increasingly calling for improved ties with South Korea as the two countries work out differences following a tense 2019.
Abe, who has met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in to arrive at a solution to a number of political disputes, said Friday before Japanese parliamentarians people-to-people exchange should be actively supported, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported Friday.
Abe did not say Japan would make concessions on trade, however. In July, Tokyo placed restrictive export controls on key chemicals to South Korea. On Friday, Abe said those controls will continue to be "strictly managed," according to the report.
South Korean tourism to Japan has dropped precipitously since 2019 amid South Korean calls for the boycott of Japanese goods and services. South Korean tourists visiting Japan are down by more than 25 percent since July, according to Yonhap.
Abe also said Friday South Korea is Japan's "most important neighboring country," reiterating a statement he made earlier in the month.
"So we ask South Korea to take responsibility and find a solution to the issue of former laborers from the Korean Peninsula," Abe said, referring to workers forced to labor in harsh conditions in wartime.
Abe also said he looked to building a "future-oriented bilateral relationship" with Seoul.
Moon had called for the end of Japan's export controls in his New Year's address.
"If Japan withdraws its export control measures, bilateral relations will make progress more rapidly," Moon had said.
In October, Moon sent Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon to initiate diplomacy with Japan, during the enthronement of new Emperor Naruhito.
Lee said at the time Korea and Japan have a history of 1,500 years, but an "unfortunate" history of only 50 years, quoting former President Kim Dae-jung, who has been credited with improving ties.
Lee, who left office in January, is running for parliament in Seoul's Jongno district, Newsis reported.
Lee, representing the ruling Democratic Party, met with store owners in local markets in the district on Friday, according to the report.