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In call with Suga, Moon urges Japan to resolve forced labor issue

President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Cheong Wa Dae
President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Cheong Wa Dae

President Moon Jae-in on Thursday called on the Japanese government to work together with South Korea to seek a solution to the issue of wartime forced labor.

In his first telephone conversation with the new Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Moon said that the two countries are each other‘s closest neighbors and that the issue should be resolved, according to Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Kang Min-seok.

“It is true that the two countries have differences on the forced labor issue, but the two governments should seek the best solution that can be accepted by all those concerned,” Moon was quoted as saying by Kang.

Developments surrounding Japan forcing Koreans to work for Japanese companies during its occupation of the Korean Peninsula in the first half of the 20th century are central to deteriorating Korea-Japan relations. Since Moon took office in 2017, South Korean courts have ruled in favor of victims of forced labor, and have issued orders to liquidate concerned Japanese firms’ assets in Korea to compensate the victims. The Japanese government and companies maintain that the issue was resolved in the 1965 treaty on bilateral relations. Following the South Korean courts’ decision, Japan has retaliated by removing Korea from its list of favored trade partners, and imposing restrictions on exports of key semi-conductor related materials to Korea.

Kang also said that Moon congratulated Suga on his inauguration, and emphasized the importance of Korea-Japan relations.

“Korea and Japan are closes friends that share fundamental values and strategic interests, and partners that should work together for the peace and prosperity of northeast Asia and the world,” Moon was quoted as telling Suga.

“Let’s use Prime Minister Suga’s inauguration as an opportunity to accelerate efforts to communicate with regards to resolving the forced labor issue, and other bilateral issues.“

According to Kang, Suga agreed to encourage related efforts.

Kang added that Suga said that although bilateral relations are in a difficult situation due to historical issues and other current issues, he hopes to build future-oriented relations with Seoul.

Kang also revealed that Moon and Suga agreed to cooperate in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, and to work closely together to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula.

Moon and Suga also welcomed the fact that negotiations on introducing special immigration measures for essential personnel including businesspeople are nearing completion, and said that once introduced, the measures will contribute to reengaging person-to-person exchanges between the two countries.

By Choi He-suk (