Japan’s new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Friday that his government would strongly urge South Korea to take appropriate action to resolve the strained bilateral relations between the two countries, signaling that he will likely maintain the same hard-line stance toward Seoul as his predecessor Yoshihide Suga.
In his first policy speech since taking office Monday, Kishida briefly mentioned South Korea, saying Tokyo would maintain its “coherent stance” toward Seoul, indicating that no immediate breakthrough is in sight.
While describing South Korea as an “important neighboring country,” Kishida said in an address to the parliament that his government would “strongly urge South Korea to take appropriate action, in line with Japan’s coherent stance” so that bilateral ties can be restored to a “healthy state.”
Just last year, Suga delivered a very similar statement during his first speech in the parliament. The only difference was that Suga described South Korea as an “extremely important neighboring country.”
Kishida takes office at a time when the two countries are mired in a protracted row over territorial and historical disputes stemming from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
Their ties deteriorated further in 2018, when South Korea’s Supreme Court ruled that Japanese firms must compensate a group of South Korean victims who were forced to work in their factories during World War II. In 2019 in apparent retaliation, Japan slapped export controls on chemicals vital to the Korean semiconductor industry and hasn’t entirely lifted them.
Japan continues to insist that all wartime issues were settled under a 1965 treaty that normalized bilateral relations. It also asserts that the 2015 agreement on “comfort women” resolved the matter of sexual slavery, another major issue between the two countries.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in is seeking to mend ties with Japan before he leaves office in May, but Tokyo has shown no interest, insisting that Seoul first must come up with ways to settle the feud.
Moon sent Kishida a letter on Monday congratulating him on his new role, but the two haven’t held a phone conversation yet.
In response to Kishida’s speech, a Cheong Wa Dae official said the government expects to continue to cooperate with Japan and communicate so that bilateral relations can develop in a “future-oriented” manner.
“The two countries have to gather wisdom to resolve pending issues and work together to expand cooperation in various areas,” a Cheong Wa Dae official said.
On the matter of North Korea, Kishida said its development of nuclear missiles cannot be tolerated, but that Japan seeks to normalize diplomatic relations with Pyongyang by resolving the “unfortunate past.”
He also stressed as his “most important task” the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, saying he would make every effort to realize the return of every victim.
Kishida also reiterated his earlier call that he was willing to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un “face to face” and “without preconditions” to discuss pending issues.
By Ahn Sung-mi (firstname.lastname@example.org