Top envoys of Seoul, Tokyo to meet in Paris

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Top envoys of Seoul, Tokyo to meet in Paris

The top envoys of Seoul and Tokyo will hold bilateral talks Thursday during an international conference in Paris, with the issue of Japan’s wartime forced labor at the forefront and the North Korea nuclear talks looming in the backdrop.

Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, who will attend the two-day Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ministerial council meeting that kicks off Wednesday, will meet with her Japanese counterpart, Taro Kono, on Thursday afternoon, Seoul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced Tuesday.

The meeting comes immediately after Japan on Monday requested an arbitration panel involving a third party be formed to resolve the World War II-era forced labor issue in accordance with procedures set by the 1965 bilateral claims agreement between Seoul and Tokyo.

Tokyo has been expressing disgruntlement over key Korean Supreme Court decisions last October and November, which ruled that Japanese companies must compensate victims of forced labor during its colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula, which lasted from 1910 to 1945.

The Korean Foreign Ministry said it will “carefully review” Japan’s request to form an arbitration panel, “taking all sorts of factors into consideration.”

Japanese Foreign Minister Kono on Tuesday called on Korean President Moon Jae-in to exercise his leadership in solving the issue of wartime forced labor, according to Japanese state broadcaster NHK, and deal with the matter with “responsibility.”

Kyodo News also reported that Kono told a news conference that he hopes to discuss the wartime labor issue with Kang, adding he doesn’t “think South Korea wants relations with Japan to further worsen.” He was quoted as saying, “They have to accept our request for arbitration. If necessary, we are prepared to dispute the issue under international law.”

His remarks likely referred to raising the issue at the International Court of Justice in The Hague should the two countries fail to resolve the issue through diplomatic means, though this would require Seoul’s approval.

Yoshihide Suga, the Japanese chief cabinet secretary, also asked for the quick establishment of an arbitration panel in a meeting with new Korean Ambassador to Tokyo Nam Gwan-pyo Tuesday while he paid a courtesy call to the prime minister’s residence, Japanese media reported. Nam, who until recently served as a deputy chief of the Blue House National Security Office, presented his diplomatic credentials to Japanese Emperor Naruhito just the previous day.

A Korean Foreign Ministry official said Tuesday that bilateral talks between Kang and Kono will be an opportunity to “discuss the two countries’ mutual interests, including the issue of the Supreme Court decision on the forced labor victims and to exchange a wide range of opinions.”

It is likely that the two ministers will discuss possible bilateral talks between President Moon and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, at the end of next month.

Kang departed for Paris Tuesday afternoon. She was also scheduled to meet with the foreign ministers of France and Peru, who are serving on the 15-member United Nations Security Council.

Kang and Kono last held bilateral talks in February in Germany on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

Lee Do-hoon, Korea’s special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, was set to depart for Paris on Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry official said. Seoul’s top nuclear envoy will accompany Kang in meetings with the French and Japanese foreign ministers, an indication of the importance of the North Korea denuclearization issue in multilateral platforms, especially amid an impasse in North-U.S. dialogue.

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