Ur­gent need for sum­mit

Moon, Abe should dis­cuss how to mend ties

The Korea Times - - OPINION -

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.

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