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Moon urges improved Seoul-Tokyo relations despite need to address history issues

South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Monday stressed the need to improve relations between his country and Japan to jointly deal with North Korea's evolving nuclear and missile capabilities, but still noted the need to address their history issues more fairly and squarely.

"The North Korean nuclear and missile issues are a matter of life or death for South Korea, but I do understand they are also a source of great concern for Japan," the South Korean leader was quoted as saying while meeting with a group of Japanese lawmakers at his office Cheong Wa Dae.

"I hope South Korea and Japan will join their efforts to overcome the serious security situation," Moon added, according to Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Park Soo-hyun.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in (left) shakes hands with Fukushiro Nukaga, chairman of the Japan-Korea Parliamentarians' Union at Cheong Wa Dae on Monday. (Yonhap)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in (left) shakes hands with Fukushiro Nukaga, chairman of the Japan-Korea Parliamentarians' Union at Cheong Wa Dae on Monday. (Yonhap)

Monday's meeting involved several Japanese members of the Japan-Korea Parliamentarians' Union, led by Fukushiro Nukaga, the Japanese chair of the joint group.

Moon noted Korea-Japan relations may have been at a standstill for too long due to various history issues, such as Japan's sexual enslavement of Korean women during its 1910-45 colonial rule of Korea.

Seoul's former administration under the disgraced and ousted former leader, Park Geun-hye, signed a deal with Tokyo in late 2015, under which it agreed to forgive Japan's war atrocity once and for all in exchange for what many here call a "mere" 10 billion yen (US$9.16 million).

The new South Korean leader reiterated that most South Koreans, including the victims themselves, simply cannot accept the deal, according to Park.

"President Moon said many wondered why the government did not sufficiently inform the people and former sex slaves themselves then," the spokesman said in a press briefing.

Moon also called for joint efforts to successfully host a series of upcoming global sporting events in the region -- the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea's PyeongChang, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games -- calling them a chance to greatly improve the countries' relations and also ensure peace and prosperity in the region, Park said. 

The South Korean president earlier hinted at scrapping the controversial 2015 deal on the former sexual slaves.

On Monday, Moon said a special task force at the foreign ministry was working to find out why or how the former Seoul administration signed the agreement despite an apparent lack of public consensus.

He also asked for active efforts by both South Korean and Japanese lawmakers to help transform the Seoul-Tokyo ties into a future-oriented relationship based on mutual trust and affection, the Cheong Wa Dae spokesman said.

"They agreed on the need to improve the Korea-Japan relationship into a future-oriented relationship despite many difficulties, such as history issues, and that they must closely work together to jointly deal with North Korea's nuclear and missile threats," Park said. (Yonhap)