Moon, Abe seek­ing ‘mid­dle ground’

The Korea Times - - NATIONAL - By Do Je-hae [email protected]­re­atimes.co.kr

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

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