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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Oct. 19)

All News 07:02 October 19, 2021

Long way to go
Moon and Kishida disagree on historical issues

President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida failed to narrow their differences on key issues, such as Japan's forced wartime labor and sex slavery, in their first phone call Friday, 11 days after the latter took office. They only agreed to disagree on those historical issues which have continued to strain bilateral ties.

During the 30-minute conversation, Moon underlined the need for diplomatic approaches to resolve a far-reaching dispute caused by the 2018 rulings by Korea's Supreme Court that ordered Japanese firms to pay compensation to surviving South Korean victims of forced labor. Regarding the sex slavery issue, Moon called for measures that will satisfy surviving victims without affecting relations between the two countries.

Despite Moon's onciliatory gestures, Kishida adamantly maintained Japan's earlier stance that Korea should first offer solutions that are acceptable to Japan. It is regrettable that the new Japanese leader showed no signs of backing down from his country's hardline positions on the thorny issues, only repeating unilateral demands put forward by his predecessors ― Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga.

Touching on a possible face-to-face summit, Moon expressed the hope of meeting Kishida in the near future. However, fresh from the phone call, the Japanese leader told reporters, "Nothing has been fixed yet with regard to a Japan-Korea summit." In a nutshell, the phone call only reconfirmed that the two countries remain poles apart with no breakthrough in bilateral relations, which have remained at the lowest point ever since their normalization of diplomatic relations in 1965.

The only encouraging point is that the two leaders recognized the need to keep up "communications and consultations." "Japan and Korea should continue to have more communications," Kishida said. In a sense, it is understandable for him to have maintained a cautious attitude toward Korea ahead of an Oct. 31 parliamentary election, given the prevalent anti-Korea sentiment in Japan. We hope the two nations will soon be able to find a way toward mutual rapprochement.

The security situation in East Asia poses growing challenges to neighboring countries over how to denuclearize North Korea and how to deal with the rise of China. Given this, it is not desirable for relations between Seoul and Tokyo to remain deadlocked. Top intelligence officials from South Korea, the United States and Japan are meeting this week to discuss pending security issues while other representatives from the three countries will also have a separate meeting, highlighting the fact that they need to work together to ensure security and stability in the region.

Despite this, it is deplorable that Kishida sent a ritual offering Sunday to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan's war dead, including 14 Class-A war criminals from World War II. Though Kishida refrained from making an in-person visit to the controversial shrine, his predecessor Suga and some Cabinet members did visit. Tokyo should make sincere efforts to acknowledge and apologize for its past misdeeds; otherwise it cannot mend ties with Seoul, make true reconciliation and move toward a better future.


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