Lee, Abe agree to mend deteriorating Seoul-Tokyo ties
Prime ministers’ 21-minute talk to facilitate dialogue
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.
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.