The visit comes hours after North Korea fired a long-range ballistic missile.

Yoon Suk Yeol visits Tokyo in a bid to mend relations that have been marred for decades.
Yoon Suk Yeol visits Tokyo in a bid to mend relations that have been marred for decades. (Issei Kato / Reuters)

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol has arrived in Japan looking to open a "new chapter" in relations, just hours after Pyongyang fired a long-range ballistic missile.

Yoon's two-day trip, starting Thursday, comes after Seoul this month announced a plan to compensate Korean victims of Japan's wartime forced labour without any direct involvement by Tokyo.

Reports suggest the visit could herald the rest art of shuttle diplomacy, including Prime Minister Fumio Kishida possibly inviting Yoon to the G7 summit in Hiroshima in May, and then visiting Seoul.

Since his election last year, Yoon has made it clear that resetting ties with Japan is a top priority.

He called the two-day trip, which will include the first full-scale leaders' summit between the sides in 12 years, "an important step forward".

READ MORE: What's on the table for the Kishida-Yoon summit?

"I am confident that the Japanese government will join us in opening a new chapter of Korea-Japan relations," he said in an interview with AFP and other media this week.

"I hope that the people of our two countries will now move forward together toward the future rather than confront over the past."

Relations reached a nadir in 2018 after a South Korean court ordered Japanese firms to compensate victims of forced labour and their families.

Japan rejected the ruling, arguing that colonial-era disputes had been settled in 1965, when diplomatic ties were normalised and Tokyo gave Seoul loans and economic aid then worth about $800 million - equivalent to several billion dollars today.

As ties frayed, the two sides imposed tit-for-tat trade measures and halted cooperation on several fronts.

However, Yoon's election, and growing concerns about North Korean sabre-rattling and Chinese military power, have driven momentum for reconciliation, said Yuki Asaba, a professor of Korean studies at Tokyo's Doshisha University.

"South Korea can no longer afford to keep squabbling over specific bilateral issues," she told AFP.

Yoon has made clear that threats such as North Korea's missiles and crises including global supply chain disruptions have driven his outreach.

"We cannot afford to waste time," he said this week.

"We must end the vicious cycle of mutual hostility and work together."

Hours before his arrival, North Korea fired an ICBM-class missile, Seoul's military said, as South Korea and the United States stage their largest joint military drills in five years.

Japan also confirmed the launch, saying the missile was believed to have landed outside its economic waters.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies