Lawmakers ignored in Tokyo

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Lawmakers ignored in Tokyo

TOKYO - “I could vividly feel the impact of the deteriorating Korea-Japan relations as I came here,” said Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun, chairman of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee, as soon as he met with reporters Wednesday. “Korea is being seriously overlooked.”

Yoon arrived in Tokyo on Tuesday for a two-day trip with a delegation of lawmakers from the committee. The lawmakers were set to meet with their Japanese counterparts and experts to discuss the worsening diplomatic row between the two countries, but they faced an icy reception.

The delegation, headed by three-term lawmaker Yoon of the Liberty Korea Party (LKP), included some political heavyweights of Korea. Rep. Chun Jung-bae, a six-term lawmaker of the Party for Democracy and Peace and a former justice minister; Rep. Yoo Ki-june, a four-term LKP lawmaker and a former maritime and fisheries minister; Rep. Chung Jin-suk, a four-term lawmaker of the LKP; and Rep. Lee Jung-hyun, a three-term independent lawmaker who once headed the LKP’s predecessor the Saenuri Party, traveled to Japan with Yoon. No lawmaker from the ruling Democratic Party joined the trip.

Although they planned to meet with counterparts of the lower and upper houses of the National Diet, Japanese lawmakers were aloof.

According to Yoon, he tried to arrange a meeting with Kenji Wakamiya, chairman of the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee, through the Korean Embassy in Japan, but the lawmaker avoided any contact. No response was given, and no explanation was provided as to why.

The Korean lawmakers managed to meet with Miki Watanabe, chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense at the House of Councilors. Although the lawmakers expected several other lawmakers to join the meeting, Watanabe came alone.

Watanabe, a first-term, proportional lawmaker, repeated the Japanese government’s position over the latest diplomatic row between Seoul and Tokyo over a forced labor issue during their meeting, Yoon said. Watanabe reportedly said there will be no summit between President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the upcoming Group of 20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, in late June if Seoul refuses to accept Tokyo’s demand that an arbitration committee be formed to address the Korean Supreme Court’s decision that Japanese companies compensate Korean victims of the wartime forced labor.

“I have visited Japan seven or eight times on official business, but it is the first time that I was treated so poorly,” Rep. Yoo said.

Yoon said the lawmakers met with Japanese experts on Korea, who said Korea must consider referring the forced labor issue to the International Court of Justice in order to avoid an extreme confrontation and buy more time.

They also said Japan is reluctant to trust Korea’s plan to establish a foundation to address the forced labor issue because the Moon Jae-in administration dismantled the foundation established to compensate comfort women based on an earlier deal, Yoon said. The experts also said the Japanese companies cannot compensate the victims even if they are willing to pay because Tokyo strongly opposes such compensation.

“The governments of Japan and Korea must reach out to each other first and show a willingness to resolve the issue, but I don’t see any intention to do so,” Yoon said. “The personalities of Abe and Moon are affecting bilateral ties enormously.”

“Finding a balance between the people’s emotions and national interests is extremely difficult in diplomacy with Japan in particular,” said Rep. Chung. “But no matter how difficult it is, we must find a balance and create a breakthrough.”

He also said the newly-established Korea-Japan parliamentary diplomacy forum, which ruling and opposition lawmakers and experts will participate in, will soon make a visit to Japan. A diplomatic source in Tokyo also said a similar forum is being prepared in Japan’s parliament and is being initiated by former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori. “If the forum is launched, more exchanges will take place,” he said.

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