Moon to meet Abe in China, Blue House says

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Moon to meet Abe in China, Blue House says


Shinzo Abe

President Moon Jae-in will have a bilateral summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday on the sidelines of a regional summit, the Blue House announced Friday.

“The upcoming meeting is the first bilateral summit of the Korean and Japanese leaders in 15 months,” Kim Hyun-chong, second deputy national security advisor to the president, said during a press briefing on Friday. “Taking into account the strained relations between the two countries, the holding of a summit on its own has significance.”

Although Abe had made public the schedule last week, Moon’s office had not officially confirmed it until Friday.

Moon will meet with Abe in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, where China will host a trilateral summit with Korea and Japan. The bilateral summit is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

Since Moon took office in May 2017, he has had five summits with Abe. The last was on the sidelines of a United Nations General Assembly in New York City in September 2018. Last month, Moon managed to initiate an impromptu 11-minute chat in Thailand on the sidelines of regional summit events.

“We hope the upcoming summit will maintain momentum for dialogue and create an opportunity to improve strained relations between the two countries,” Kim said.

Korea and Japan share a bitter history, including Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. Enslavement of Korean women in wartime brothels and conscription of forced laborers have been particularly thorny issues.

Bilateral relations deteriorated since Moon took office and scrapped an agreement to settle the issue of Japan’s wartime sexual enslavement of Korean women, signed in 2015 by his predecessor.

The diplomatic chill worsened after the Supreme Court of Korea ruled last year that Japanese companies must pay compensation to individual Korean victims of wartime forced labor. The dispute eventually spilled over to a tit-for-tat trade spat between Seoul and Tokyo as Japan tightened export restrictions on materials crucial to manufacturing semiconductors and displays and removed Korea from a list of trusted trade partners. The Moon administration, then, responded by threatening to withdraw from a military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan.

Korea made an 11th-hour decision to not terminate the intelligence-sharing pact. In return, the two sides agreed to hold talks to resolve the trade row, and the first meeting between senior officials took place in Tokyo on Monday.

At the upcoming summit, Moon and Abe are expected to discuss several volatile issues, but a senior Blue House official expressed cautious optimism.

“Whenever state leaders meet, we always see progress afterwards because a summit produces a momentum,” the official said. “Ongoing talks between trade officials are producing some small progress. Personally I want them to move faster, and I hope to see a wider scope of progress.”

He said Korea will be prepared to address the forced laborer issue if Japan raises it. Asked about Moon’s position on a resolution proposed by National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang earlier this week to settle the issue, the official said the Blue House’s stance remains unchanged. “The most important thing is that the Supreme Court’s ruling must be respected,” he said, stressing that Japanese companies’ participation in compensating the forced labor victims is non-negotiable.

Speaker Moon, who visited Tokyo in early November, introduced a so-called one-plus-one bill on Wednesday to establish a foundation comprised of voluntary contributions from the affected companies and people of the two countries to resolve the forced labor compensation issue.

The senior Blue House official said victims’ acceptance is critical for any resolution in order to avoid another diplomatic fiasco.

“We’ve already had that experience when the comfort women deal was reached,” he said. “If the forced labor victims decide to reject the deal and take steps to liquidate the seized assets of the Japanese firms in Korea, we can’t stop them and there is no way to resolve the situation. Therefore, we need a grand principle that takes into account everything.”

Japan maintained its long-held stance. “The Japanese government’s position is clear,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Thursday, when he was asked about Speaker Moon’s proposal in an interview with Japan’s Jiji Press on Thursday. “The 1965 bilateral agreement on property and claims settlement already resolved the issue.”

Until now, Suga has refused to comment on Speaker Moon’s proposal, calling it a bill in another country’s legislature.

Suga expressed hope that the upcoming summit will serve as a springboard for mending bilateral ties. “It is extremely important for Japan and Korea to have a candid exchange of opinions between the top leaders,” he said.

Before his bilateral meeting with Abe, Moon will have a summit and a luncheon with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing. Efforts to resume stalled negotiations to denuclearize North Korea and to improve Korea-China relations in the aftermath of the U.S. deployment of an advanced missile system in Korea are expected to be discussed at the Moon-Xi summit.

Later in the day, Moon will travel to Chengdu and have a bilateral meeting and dinner with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

On Tuesday morning, Moon will attend a series of trilateral meetings before his bilateral summit with Abe. Moon, Li and Abe will attend a trilateral business summit attended by businessmen of the three countries. Later in the morning, they will also participate in a trilateral summit and a joint press conference. A luncheon and other events to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the trilateral relations are also planned for the day.

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