Japan and South Korea will resume business travel between the countries starting Thursday following a halt due to the coronavirus pandemic, a move that may help to improve relations that have sunk to a historic low over wartime labor.
“Currently, the Japan-South Korea relationship is in an extremely severe situation so exchanges of people from both countries, starting with businesspeople, are important,” Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told a news conference.
Under the bilateral agreement, travelers on short-term business trips will not be required to observe 14-day self-isolation periods if they test negative for the novel coronavirus and submit travel itineraries, among other preventive measures.
Expatriates and other long-term residents will be allowed to enter on condition that they remain in isolation for two weeks.
The bilateral agreement on the resumption of business trips follows a similar deal reached with Singapore in August.
Relations between Japan and South Korea have frayed since a series of South Korean court rulings ordering Japanese companies to pay compensation for wartime forced labor and Japan’s apparent retaliation by controlling exports of materials used to manufacture semiconductors.
Japanese and South Korean officials had been negotiating since July on the resumption of business travel, with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and South Korean President Moon Jae-in last month agreeing in a telephone call to speed up negotiations.
Around 5.58 million South Koreans visited Japan in 2019, the second highest number by nationality, following around 9.59 million from China, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization. Of the visitors from South Korea, about 310,000 traveled for business purposes.
Japan, which began imposing entry bans on foreign nationals in February to curb the spread of the coronavirus, has recently started to reopen its borders as part of efforts to boost the domestic economy.