‘Seoul to re­main low key over NK is­sue’

The Korea Times - - NATIONAL - By Park Ji-won jw­[email protected]­re­atimes.co.kr

SEJONG — Prime Min­is­ter Lee Nak-yon said South Korea will con­tinue pur­su­ing a low-key ap­proach in as­sess­ing North Korea nu­clear is­sues by say­ing Seoul plans to boost var­i­ous in­ter-Korean pro­grams re­lat­ing to cul­tural ex­changes.

“South Korea plans to pro­vide var­i­ous types of cor­re­spond­ing mea­sures next year to help North Korea ac­cel­er­ate its move to dis­man­tle its nu­clear pro­gram. Hav­ing more cul­ture and sports ex­changes, fam­ily reunion events and ap­ply­ing steps to fur­ther ease mil­i­tary ten­sions are the mea­sures that Seoul is con­sid­er­ing,” Lee said in a din­ner meet­ing with lo­cal re­porters at the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice in Sejong, late Wed­nes­day.

His re­marks echoed Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in’s soft­ened ap­proach in deal­ing with the U.S. and in­ter­na­tional com­mu­ni­ties as a me­di­a­tor and facilitator be­tween North Korea and the U.S. in the stalled de­nu­cle­ariza­tion talks.

Re­gard­ing the re­cent court de­ci­sion to or­der Ja­panese firms to com­pen­sate forced South Korean la­bor­ers dur­ing the past Ja­panese colo­nial rule, he em­pha­sized that Seoul is hav­ing closed-door dis­cus­sions with Ja­pan to ex­plain the South’s po­si­tion over the is­sue.

On the sub­ject of a spe­cific plan to deal with the court de­ci­sion, Lee said “We are op­er­at­ing an in­ter-min­istry task­force un­der­neath be­cause there are many things to be checked in ad­vance. Oth­er­wise, things might be tough (to deal with.)”

“Ja­panese For­eign Min­is­ter Taro Kono hopes to have unofficial talks with For­eign Min­is­ter Kang Kyung-wha over the is­sue,” Lee said.

The two coun­tries have been fac­ing a diplo­matic con­fronta­tion since Oct. 30 when the Supreme Court ruled in fa­vor of South Kore­ans seek­ing com­pen­sa­tion from Ja­pan’s Nip­pon Steel & Su­mit­omo Metal Corp. for their wartime forced la­bor.

Kono is­sued a state­ment call­ing the Seoul court’s de­ci­sions “to­tally un­ac­cept­able.” Prime Min­is­ter Lee later fired back re­leas­ing a rare state­ment crit­i­ciz­ing the state­ment by Kono by say­ing; “Ja­panese gov­ern­ment lead­ers’ re­marks are in­ap­pro­pri­ate and un­wise.”

Re­gard­ing wors­en­ing eco­nomic in­dices, Lee ad­mit­ted that the gov­ern­ment is fac­ing grow­ing chal­lenges to ad­dress eco­nomic is­sues. “I can­not deny the risks caused by eco­nomic pol­icy changes. The mea­sures to raise the min­i­mum wage and shorten work­ing hours were some­thing we needed to pur­sue and should have done ear­lier. But they were in­tro­duced all at once, bur­den­ing some peo­ple,” he said.

Ag­ing society is an­other fac­tor hurt­ing eco­nomic fun­da­men­tals. South Korea is Asia’s fourth-largest economy.

“The ag­ing pop­u­la­tion has a broad im­pact on society. I think the col­lapse of Ja­pan’s eco­nomic bub­ble started along with the ag­ing society. The phe­nom­e­non has started to pen­e­trate into (South Korea).”

Over North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s pos­si­ble visit to Seoul by De­cem­ber, Lee said there are no clear signs that Kim will visit Seoul.

“Orig­i­nally, there was no agree­ment that spec­i­fies a con­crete sched­ule. We asked for un­der­stand­ing of the interpretation that the visit will be hap­pen­ing within this year.”

Yon­hap

Prime Min­is­ter Lee Nak-yon heads to a meet­ing on state af­fairs at the Sejong Gov­ern­ment Com­plex, Wed­nes­day.

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