Lee, Abe agree to mend de­te­ri­o­rat­ing Seoul-Tokyo ties

Prime min­is­ters’ 21-minute talk to fa­cil­i­tate dia­logue

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

TOKYO — Prime Min­is­ter Lee Nak-yon and Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter con­curred Thurs­day on the need for Seoul and Tokyo to im­prove their de­te­ri­o­rated re­la­tions.

Dur­ing a meet­ing at Abe’s of­fi­cial res­i­dence in Tokyo, the two agreed to con­tinue dia­logue in order to pre­vent bi­lat­eral re­la­tions from wors­en­ing. But they failed to reach an agree­ment on spe­cific is­sues in­clud­ing wartime forced la­bor dur­ing the Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion of Korea.

A se­nior South Korean gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial said that as Abe has ex­pressed his will­ing­ness to im­prove re­la­tions via open dia­logue, there is the pos­si­bil­ity of a sum­mit be­tween him and Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in on the side­lines of next month’s APEC gath­er­ing in Chile.

“We don’t want to rule out the pos­si­bil­ity of Pres­i­dent Moon hav­ing a sum­mit with Abe next month. Be­fore this can hap­pen, how­ever, there are lots of is­sues to be ad­dressed and touched upon,” the of­fi­cial said.

The For­eign Min­istry had been seek­ing to ar­range a sum­mit at Sep­tem­ber’s United Na­tions Gen­eral As­sem­bly in New York, but this was scrapped after Seoul and Tokyo failed to nar­row their dif­fer­ences over the pend­ing is­sues.

Some crit­ics here said it was un­likely that a Moon-Abe sum­mit will take place in the near fu­ture as the Ja­panese prime min­is­ter has re­it­er­ated that Seoul needs to keep its promises for re­la­tions to im­prove.

“The two are not ready to re­solve the pend­ing is­sues,” said Shin Beom­chul, a se­nior fel­low at the Asan In­sti­tute in Seoul.

“The two coun­tries had talks and reaf­firmed in prin­ci­ple that they have dif­fer­ent stances,” added Park Won-gon, a pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics at Han­dong Global Univer­sity.

Prime Min­is­ter Lee told Abe that South Korea doesn’t have any plan to ab­ro­gate a 1965 agree­ment to set­tle prop­erty claims mostly stem­ming from wartime griev­ances.

“Dur­ing the meet­ing, Lee told the prime min­is­ter that South Korea will not ig­nore the 1965 agree­ment be­tween the neigh­bor­ing coun­tries. Abe re­sponded by say­ing the state-level agree­ment must be kept,” Vice For­eign Min­is­ter Cho Seiy­oung told re­porters in a brief­ing after Lee and Abe’s en­counter in Tokyo.

Lee de­liv­ered Pres­i­dent Moon’s “per­sonal hand­writ­ten mes­sage” to Abe, who told him that Ja­pan will keep talk­ing with South Korea,” Cho said.

Tokyo has protested over last year’s South Korean Supreme Court rul­ings or­der­ing Ja­panese com­pa­nies to com­pen­sate sur­viv­ing South Korean vic­tims who were forced to work for them dur­ing World War II. Abe said the rul­ings were a vi­o­la­tion of the 1965 treaty that nor­mal­ized diplo­matic ties.

South Korea said the treaty didn’t cover all in­di­vid­ual claims, adding the rul­ing was a re­sult of ju­di­cial in­de­pen­dence. Claim­ing South Korea was aim­ing to re­write the past, Abe de­cided to re­move the coun­try from Ja­pan’s list of most trusted busi­ness part­ners. In re­sponse, Seoul ter­mi­nated a mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence-shar­ing pact with Tokyo.

“We can’t un­veil the en­tire con­tents of Pres­i­dent Moon’s mes­sage to Abe. But the let­ter in­cluded the South Korean leader’s hopes to im­prove bi­lat­eral re­la­tions,” Cho said, adding Abe thanked Lee for de­liv­er­ing the let­ter.

Pre­vi­ously, ex­pec­ta­tions had grown that Lee’s at­ten­dance at the corona­tion event of Ja­panese Em­peror Naruhito would lay “some ground­work” to ad­dress the on­go­ing bi­lat­eral dis­pute.

Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk

Prime Min­is­ter Lee Nak-yon, left, shakes hands with Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe be­fore their sum­mit in the lat­ter’s of­fi­cial res­i­dence in Toyko, Thurs­day.

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