Lee says aim is propelling Seoul, Tokyo dialogue

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Lee says aim is propelling Seoul, Tokyo dialogue

Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said Wednesday that his goal is to set the optimal tone to propel dialogue between Seoul and Tokyo in his talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Thursday.

Lee told reporters Tuesday in a hotel in Tokyo after Japanese Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement ceremony that he expects to call for “enabling strengthened dialogue” between Korea and Japan in his talks with Abe. He added he will “set a goal of creating an atmosphere to bolster maximum dialogue.”

On Tuesday, Lee kicked off a three-day trip to Japan to attend the emperor’s enthronement ceremony as a representative of the South Korean government. The trip came amid looming tensions between the two neighbors over the wartime forced labor issue, Japan’s export restrictions on Korea and a bilateral intelligence-sharing pact set to expire next month.

Lee acknowledged the strained bilateral ties saying, “It’s not a situation that can get dramatically resolved with a few words. In particular, there will not likely be detailed discussions with Prime Minister Abe.”

Lee’s talks with Abe were expected to last between 10 to 15 minutes Thursday morning. The time constraint means it would be highly unlikely issues including the Korean Supreme Court ruling last year ordering Japanese companies to compensate Korean victims of Japanese forced labor during World War II or Japan’s export restrictions and removal of Korea from its white list of favored trading partners will be discussed.

The bilateral General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) is also set to expire next month, as Korea decided not to automatically renew its military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan signed in 2016.

He noted the limitations to the talks and said it wasn’t expected for “some sort of agreement to be reached” during the short meeting.

Lee said he was able to briefly greet Abe during a banquet Tuesday evening following the enthronement ceremony. Abe first spoke to him and said they will meet two days later, and Lee replied he looks forward to meeting.

Abe then said, “It’s been a long time,” in a friendly gesture, and introduced his wife Akie Abe. Lee described the atmosphere as “bright.”

Lee and Abe last met over a year ago at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia, in September 2018. As lawmakers, they built up a relationship over the years in their travels between Seoul and Tokyo.

Lee also spoke with Emperor Naruhito at the banquet, expressing that it was a pleasure to meet again after their last encounter at the World Water Forum in Brazil in March 2018. Conversing mainly in Japanese, Lee also said that President Moon Jae-in sent a congratulatory letter to the emperor.

Lee on Wednesday met with Japanese politicians including Fukushiro Nukaga of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, a chair of the Korea-Japan Parliamentarians’ Union, and spoke with students at Keio University.

BY SARAH KIM, BAEK MIN-JEONG [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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