Urgent need for summit
Moon, Abe should discuss how to mend ties
South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe produced nothing tangible during their talks in Tokyo, Thursday, to mend frayed ties between the countries. Both sides only reaffirmed their previous positions about the ongoing diplomatic and trade row.
If there is anything positive, it could be that Lee and Abe shared the understanding that Korea and Japan cannot leave their confrontation as it stands. This means they have concurred that neither side wants the difficult situation to deteriorate further. That is why Lee voiced guarded optimism that Seoul and Tokyo will accelerate their diplomatic dialogue to defuse tensions.
Of course, the 21-minute talks between the two prime ministers on the sidelines of new Japanese Emperor Naruhito’s coronation were not intended to be negotiations to find a resolution to the trade and historical issues between the neighbors. Yet the meeting was seen as meaningful as Seoul and Tokyo held their highest-level talks since Japan imposed export curbs on three materials essential for Korean firms manufacturing semiconductors and display panels in July.
It is worth noting that Lee and Abe agreed on the need to address the bilateral friction aggravated by the Korean Supreme Court’s ruling that Japanese firms should compensate surviving South Korean victims of forced labor during World War II. In addition to the export restrictions, Japan removed Korea from its “whitelist” of favored trading partners in August.
These trade measures are in apparent retaliation to the forced labor ruling. In turn, Seoul also took its own trade control measures against Japan. It filed a suit against Tokyo with the World Trade Organization (WTO) for violating the fair and free trade rule. Korea also decided to terminate a military intelligence-sharing treaty with Japan — the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA).
Lee visited Japan to serve as a messenger for President Moon Jaein. He delivered Moon’s personal letter to Abe, which reportedly emphasized the importance of cooperation between the countries in promoting peace and stability in Northeast Asia. Moon might offer to have a summit with Abe to discuss the thorny issues straining Seoul-Tokyo relations. However, it is somewhat disappointing to see Abe remaining noncommittal to such an offer.
A summit between the two countries’ leaders is more than necessary to break the ice in their frosty ties. As Seoul reiterated, the Moon administration is always open to summit diplomacy. We hope both sides will hold a summit no later than Nov. 23 when the GSOMIA expires. Moon and Abe can meet when they attend the summit with the ASEAN member nations in Thailand and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Chile — both next month.
It is up to Abe to engage in summitry to break the ice. It is imperative that both sides make strenuous efforts to narrow their differences over historical and trade issues. The best option is to solve the problems through dialogue and compromise.