NIS chief proposes joint statement to Japan's Suga
Park Jie-won, Korea’s top intelligence chief, proposed a new joint Korea-Japan leaders’ statement in a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga but was told that the idea was “unrealistic,” according to Japanese media reports Wednesday.
On Tuesday afternoon, Park, director of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), held an unofficial meeting with Suga at his residence in Tokyo, becoming the first high-ranking Korean official to meet the new Japanese prime minister, who was inaugurated in September.
Park met with Suga for around 30 minutes from 3:30 p.m., and discussed the two countries' rocky bilateral relations.
After the talks, Park told reporters, “I conveyed to Prime Minister Suga President Moon Jae-in’s earnest greetings and intent to normalize Korea-Japan relations, and we had good discussions on the North Korea issue.”
During the meeting with Suga, Park proposed a joint statement similar to a declaration between Korean President Kim Dae-jung and Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi on Kim’s state visit to Japan in October 1998, reported the Mainichi Shimbun Wednesday.
Kim and Obuchi held a summit and signed a declaration called “A New Japan-Republic of Korea Partnership towards the 21st Century,” on Oct. 8, 1998, seen as a breakthrough in bilateral ties. The two countries’ relations have often been disrupted by historical issues stemming back to Japan’s colonial rule of Korea.
Obuchi recognized Japan in the past caused “tremendous damage and suffering to the people of the Republic of Korea through its colonial rule” and expressed his “deep remorse and heartfelt apology.” In turn, Kim called for the two countries to “overcome their unfortunate history and build a future-oriented relationship based on reconciliation as well as good-neighborly and friendly cooperation.”
The Mainichi reported that Park conveyed his idea that a new joint statement could contribute to the success of the Tokyo Summer Olympics next July, seen also as an occasion to put back on track dialogue with Pyongyang.
However, it quoted a Japanese government official as describing such a proposal as being “unrealistic because there is no guarantee that such a declaration would resolve the issues between the two countries.”
On the wartime forced labor issue, Park told reporters in Tokyo that he conveyed to Suga Korea’s stance and “shared the consensus that whatever happens, the two countries’ leaders have to resolve the issue.”
He said, “If we keep up the dialogue, I believe things will work out,” adding that Suga had been “friendly” in discussions.
Park said he did not convey any separate letter from Moon.
In late 2018, the Korean Supreme Court 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 individuals' rights to compensation had not expired. The Korean government said it respects the decision of the judicial branch.
Tokyo maintains that all compensation issues related to colonial rule were resolved through a 1965 treaty normalizing bilateral relations. The Japanese companies have refused to comply, and plaintiffs began the legal process of seizing their assets in Korea. Japan imposed export restrictions on Korea in July 2019, seen largely as retaliation for the forced labor rulings, resulting in Seoul taking tit-for-tat measures. Tokyo has threatened further measures if the assets owned by Japanese companies in Korea are liquidated.
Japan’s Jiji Press reported that Suga said to Park on the forced labor issue, “We would like the Korean side to make an opportunity to return Korea-Japan relations to normal.”
The Asahi Shimbun reported Wednesday that “in a situation with the forced labor issue remaining, a new declaration is not realistic.”
It added that Suga “made such a position clear during his meeting with Director Park,” repeating the refrain that Korea has to make an opportunity to improve bilateral relations.
Kyodo News went as far as to report that the Japanese government showed “opposition” to Korea’s proposal for a new joint declaration.
Asked about Park’s proposal for a joint declaration, Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato Katsunobu said in a press briefing Wednesday that he would “refrain from referring to the remarks in detail,” adding, “it doesn’t appear that there was any concrete proposal on Korea-Japan relations, including a new joint declaration.”
Prior to the Kim-Obuchi declaration, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono issued an apology in 1993 for the “immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds” endured by the Asian women forced by the Japanese military into wartime sexual slavery in the so-called Kono statement. In 1995, Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama issued the Murayama Statement, offering a “heartfelt apology” for Japan’s wartime aggressions and acknowledged that Japan “through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries.” However, some Japanese politicians over the years, including former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, have threatened to backpedal on such statements.
Park, arriving in Tokyo Sunday, met with ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai, a powerful supporter of Suga, that day.
Japanese broadcaster NHK reported that Nikai told reporters that the two held “very friendly conversations and gained certainty that they could maintain a relationship of trust.”
The two veteran politicians’ friendship dates back two decades to their times serving as ministers under the Kim Dae-jung and Keizo Obuchi administrations and preparing for the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Park also met with Shigeru Kitamura, head of the National Security Secretariat of Japan, and Hiroaki Takizawa, director of Japan’s Cabinet intelligence, on Monday.
Park, concluding his Tokyo trip, told the JoongAng Ilbo over phone Wednesday that he believes that a Korea-Japan-China leaders’ summit planned for the end of the year will “head in a positive direction.”
BY SARAH KIM, LEE KEUN-PYUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]