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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Oct. 15)

All News 07:07 October 15, 2020

Suga's reckless demand
Japan should not use trilateral summit as leverage

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has reportedly said that he will not attend a trilateral summit among South Korea, China and Japan unless Seoul changes its stance over the issue of compensation for the surviving South Korean victims of forced wartime labor. According to Kyodo News, Tokyo notified Seoul late last month that Suga would not visit Korea for the summit slated for late this year unless it takes "proper" measures to resolve the matter.

Suga revealed his stance after he told Japanese media that he would like to ask Seoul to take steps to settle the issue following his telephone conversation with President Moon Jae-in, Sept. 24. The phone call was the first of its kind since he took office. We believe it is improper for Suga to link the issue to the three-way summit.

This has triggered public anger in Korea after Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi called on the German government to remove a statue of a girl symbolizing sex slaves for frontline Japanese troops during World War II. Giving in to Japanese pressure, the central Mitte District in Berlin ordered a civic group with South Korean ties to remove the "Statue of Peace" by Oct. 14, after it was installed in late September. The district office, however, put the removal on hold temporarily to find a solution.

Against this backdrop, Japan's move is very disappointing as it betrays expectations for better relations between Seoul and Tokyo, under Suga's new leadership.

It is inappropriate for him to ask the Korean government to nullify the Supreme Court's ruling ordering Japanese firms to pay compensation to surviving South Korean victims of forced labor during the 1910-45 Japanese occupation of Korea. It is a reckless demand to coerce Seoul to break the principle of the separation of the three branches of government: the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. We cast doubt on Suga's ulterior motives in coming up with such a demand that Seoul cannot accept at all. Japan deserves criticism for attempting to use the summit as leverage.

The trilateral summit between the neighboring nations, which began in 2008, has played a role of promoting mutual cooperation and solving pending issues. Suga should immediately drop his threat not to attend the meeting. Otherwise, he is only showing that he has no intention of compromising over the thorny issue and having better ties with South Korea. He needs to face up to Japan's shameful history squarely, and at least acknowledge its wartime atrocities.

Seoul and Tokyo are sharply divided over the issue of wartime forced labor. Moon earlier told Suga that the two nations should explore ways for an optimum solution. Instead of inheriting the hardline policies of his predecessor Shinzo Abe, Suga should take a future-oriented attitude. If he really wants to mend soured ties with Seoul, Suga should attend the trilateral summit to solve the problem through dialogue.

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