NIS director is first high-level Korean official to visit Japan after Suga takes office
Park Jie-won, the director of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), kicked off a trip to Tokyo for talks with senior Japanese officials to discuss issues including export restrictions and the compensation of wartime forced labor victims.
Park departed Sunday morning for Narita International Airport, diplomatic sources said Monday, the first visit to Japan by a high-level Korean official since Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga took office in September.
Park met with ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai, a powerful supporter of Suga, on Sunday afternoon in a hotel in Tokyo, reported Jiji Press Monday, citing an LDP official.
During the visit, Park was also expected to meet with Hiroaki Takizawa, the director of Japan’s Cabinet intelligence.
Park, a former lawmaker from the opposition Party for People's Livelihoods, was appointed as Korea’s top intelligence chief in July.
Park, a close confidant to late President Kim Dae-jung, who was known for his role in arranging the first inter-Korean summit in 2000 with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, has friendly relations with Nikai dating back to 1999 when they each served as ministers in previous governments.
Park at the time had served as culture minister during the Kim Dae-jung administration, when he became acquainted with Nikai, who then served as transport minister under the Keizo Obuchi administration. They built up their friendship preparing for the 2002 FIFA World Cup — Korea and Japan.
When Park was imprisoned in 2006, Nikai was said to have visited him and sent him thermal underwear.
Park was convicted of helping Hyundai Group pay $450 million to the North in return for the 2000 inter-Korean summit and the conglomerate’s business rights in North Korea. In 2006, the Supreme Court sentenced him to a three-year prison term, but then President Roh Moo-hyun pardoned Park in 2007 after eight months of imprisonment.
Despite their personal relationship, the forced labor issue is a complicated one, with the Korean and Japanese governments holding divergent views with little sign of compromise.
The Korean Supreme Court in late 2018 ordered two Japanese companies to compensate Korean victims of Japanese forced labor during World War II. The top court acknowledged the illegality of Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule and recognized that the individual’s right to compensation has not expired.
The Japanese companies have refused to comply, and plaintiffs began the legal process of seizing their assets in Korea.
Tokyo maintains that all compensation issues related to colonial rule were resolved through a 1965 treaty normalizing bilateral relations.
Japan imposed export restrictions July last year, seen largely as retaliation over the forced labor rulings, and Korea has since then urged its withdrawal. Tokyo has warned that it may impose further measures if the assets owned by Japanese companies in Korea are liquidated.
Last month, Takeo Kawamura, head of the Japan–Korea Parliamentarians’ Union, visited Seoul and met with Lee Nak-yon, the head of ruling Democratic Party (DP), on Oct. 18 to discuss ways to improve bilateral ties. Kawamura is a key member of Nikai’s faction. Park’s trip is believed to have been arranged after this visit.
There is also interest to see if Park will be able to meet with new Prime Minister Suga during his trip to Japan.
After Park’s visit, a group of bipartisan lawmakers that are a part of the Korea–Japan Parliamentarians’ Union are also set to visit Tokyo, from Thursday to Saturday. The group will be led by DP Rep. Kim Jin-pyo, a former finance minister and five-term lawmaker who chairs the parliamentarians’ union. They are expected to meet with members of the Japan–Korea Parliamentarians’ Union to discuss bilateral relations.
BY SARAH KIM, YOON SEOL-YOUNG [email@example.com]