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South Korean and Japanese leaders back dialogue to resolve row

posted onNovember 4, 2019

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday (Nov. 4) held brief informal talks on the sidelines of a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Bangkok.

"President Moon and Prime Minister Abe had their talks under very friendly and sincere atmosphere," South Korea's presidential Blue House spokesperson said. "Two leaders agreed that South Korea-Japan relations are important and reaffirmed that their bilateral issues should be resolved through dialogues." 

Monday's casual meeting comes as relations  between Tokyo and Seoul  have plunged to their lowest in decades after South Korea’s top court last year ordered Japan's firms to compensate some wartime forced labourers. 

The feud spilled over into trade and security issues, hurting both economic ties and security cooperation.

In July, Japan imposed stricter controls on high-tech materials exports to South Korea. Seoul responded  by declining to renew a military intelligence-sharing pact with Tokyo, that is scheduled to expire later this month.

South Korean Defence Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo told a parliamentary session the pact should be kept “if it helps with our security in any way” but the trade issues also needed to be resolved. 

Moon and Abe have not held a summit for more than a year, though they had a 10-second greeting for photos at the Group of 20 Summit in Osaka in the late June. 

Moon did not attend Japan's Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement ceremony late last month but instead sent South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon, who handed Abe a private letter from Moon.

Japan's Abe meets South Korea's Moon

(Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in speak in Bangkok on Nov. 4. (Photo: South Korea's presidential Blue House) 

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Akihiro Nishimura said Abe had conveyed to Moon Tokyo’s “basic stance,” which is that the issue of compensation was settled by a 1965 bilateral agreement. 

The agreement normalised diplomatic relations, with Japan paying $300 million in compensation and extending an additional $200 million in loans to make amends for its colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. 

It remained to be seen when the two leaders would be able to hold a formal meeting, with Nishimura saying that Abe and Moon did not touch on the possibility of holding official talks in the future.

With reporting by Nikkei Asian Review and Japan Times