Moon, Abe seeking ‘middle ground’
Cheong Wa Dae has been actively promoting the “outcomes” of President Moon Jae-in’s recent visit to the United Nations General Assembly, where he held several bilateral meetings, including one with U.S. President Donald Trump. But it was noticeable that unlike last year, there was no meeting between Moon and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the annual U.N. event.
It is not surprising no bilateral summit took place between the leaders of South Korea and Japan, considering the deteriorating row between the two countries over trade, history and security. And prospects for reviving the summit diplomacy between the neighboring countries, which has been on hold for more than a year, remain uncertain.
Reports said Abe has decided recently not to hold a summit with Moon during the ASEAN summit in Thailand, which begins on Oct. 30. It is Abe’s assessment that conditions are not conducive to make Moon-Abe encounter happens unless Seoul seeks a “resolution” to the ruling on the forced labor issue, Japanese media outlets said.
Given the prolonged standoff between the two leaders, it is hard to believe that just slightly more than a year ago, their relations were rather amicable. Abe had sent a cake to congratulate Moon on his first anniversary in office during the South Korean leader’s visit to Japan in May 2018. Last year alone, the two leaders held three summits, according to a document by Cheong Wa Dae.
Their first summit last year took place during the Pyeong-Chang Winter Olympic Games on Feb. 9. This was followed by a bilateral meeting on May 9 on the sidelines of the Korea-Japan-China summit and another one on Sept. 25 during the U.N. General Assembly.
Abe continues to insist that last year’s South Korean Supreme Court rulings, which ordered Japanese firms to compensate surviving South Korean victims of forced labor during the Japanese occupation of the Korean Peninsula, violates “international law” and has refused to sit down with Moon until the situation is rectified. During the G20 summit in Osaka in June, Moon and Abe only shook hands briefly.
Abe has also been upset with the Moon administration’s response to the 2015 bilateral deal on wartime sex slavery signed during the previous Park Geun-hye administration.
Experts have underlined the need for the leaders of the two countries to take the initiative in mending the soured ties, despite the ongoing friction.
At this rate, it is feared the year will run out without the two leaders getting together for a meeting, although there are speculations they may meet during the Nov. 16-17 APEC summit.
Ahead of the Oct. 22 coronation of the Japanese emperor and the Nov. 22 expiration of the General Security of Military Information Agreement, behind-the-scenes negotiations are underway for a possible breakthrough, diplomatic sources said Thursday.
At a press conference in New York during his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, Abe continued to blame Korea for the strain in the two countries’ relations and criticized Seoul’s “unilateral notification to end a bilateral military intelligence-sharing pact.”
But some Japanese politicians have been making suggestions lately to mend ties and address the forced labor issue as a way to bring the two governments closer to an agreement on how to deal with the matter.
Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai was quoted in the Japanese media recently as saying that Tokyo needs to “first reach out to Seoul and make necessary concessions” for smooth diplomacy.
The remarks from a prominent figure in the Abe administration were considered rare, given that Abe has been rigid about demanding Seoul bring a proposal Japan can accept.
President Moon Jae-in
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe