Efforts to mend ties
:Seoul, Tokyo should compromise over forced labor
National Intelligence Service (NIS) Director Park Jie-won met with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Tuesday, to discuss pending issues between their two countries. This is the first time Suga has met with a ranking Korean official since he took office in September.
Suga and Park focused on the compensation issue regarding surviving South Korean victims of forced labor before and during World War II as well as the problem of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea. They also discussed the envisioned trilateral summit among leaders of the two neighbors and China slated for later this year in Seoul. Park reportedly expressed Seoul's willingness to cooperate with Japan in hosting the Tokyo Summer Olympics next year should Suga agree to attend the summit.
"I conveyed our stance to Prime Minister Suga. Leaders of both Korea and Japan concur on the need to resolve the issue through dialogue," Park told reporters after the meeting. It remains to be seen whether such a meeting will produce substantive results. Yet it is a positive sign the two sides resumed dialogue. Some 10 ruling and opposition party lawmakers led by Rep. Kim Jin-pyo will also leave for Tokyo today to discuss bilateral issues with their Japanese counterparts.
Seoul and Tokyo have been in conflict over a ruling by the South Korean Supreme Court in 2018 ordering Japanese companies to pay compensation to the survivors of forced wartime labor. Suga has already threatened not to attend the three-way summit unless the Korean government nullifies the compensation ruling. He also called on it to discard the legal process of selling off assets of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to finance the compensation.
A Korean court has activated the latter process with an asset seizure notification which will take effect Dec. 30. Mitsubishi, however, has refused to comply with the compensation order, citing the Japanese government's stance that all reparation claims arising from Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula have already been settled by the 1965 bilateral treaty that normalized ties tween the two countries.
Park also met with other figures from the Japanese government and the governing Liberal Democratic Party including party leader Toshihiro Nikai, with whom he has been maintaining close relations. Regarding the forced labor issue, they reportedly discussed a proposal floated by former National Assembly speaker Moon Hee-sang.
Last year, Moon suggested that the two nations should set up a foundation with money collected from businesses and people from the two countries to pay compensation to the victims. We urge both sides to find a compromise to resolve the matter. Moon's proposal could be a viable option that is acceptable to Seoul and Tokyo if they are ready to narrow their differences.
Leaders of the two countries need to resolve the thorny issue and put bilateral relations back on track before it is too late. Park once engaged in mapping out the "Kim Dae-jung-Obuchi Declaration" in 1998 which offered a thaw and opened a new era between the two nations. We hope President Moo Jae-in and Prime Minister Suga will make a similar declaration to end the dispute and move toward a future-oriented partnership.
Expectation is also growing that U.S. President-elect Joe Biden might play a role in mediating the Seoul-Tokyo dispute. When serving as vice president under the Barack Obama administration, Biden dealt with Korea-Japan ties. We expect he will proactively engage in the matter again to help rebuild the trilateral alliance among Korea, Japan and the U.S.
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