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Spy chief’s Tokyo trip unlikely to spark dramatic changes in Korea-Tokyo relations

National Intelligence Service chief Park Jie-won arrives at the Incheon International Airport on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
National Intelligence Service chief Park Jie-won arrives at the Incheon International Airport on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

The South Korean National Intelligence Service chief’s series of meetings with Japanese leaders appear unlikely to spark sudden changes in bilateral relations, with his suggestions reportedly being met with little enthusiasm.

On Wednesday, National Intelligence Service Director Park Jie-won returned to Seoul after having met with Japan’s political leaders including Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on the previous day.

At the meeting with Suga, Park suggested issuing a Korea-Japan joint declaration to follow the Kim Dae-jung-Obuchi Joint Declaration of 1998. The suggestion was first reported by Japanese media, and Park confirmed related reports to a Korean news agency.

According to Japanese media, the Japanese government considers the suggestion “unrealistic” considering the gap in the two sides’ positions on bilateral relations.

“(Such a declaration) is unrealistic with the conscripted workers issue outstanding,” Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun reported Wednesday, citing an unnamed high-level Japanese official.

“Conscripted workers” is Japan’s term for those forced into working for Japanese companies during Japan’s occupation of the Korean Peninsula in the first half of the 20th century. Japan claims the workers were compensated through the 1965 treaty, and denies that Koreans were forced to work in slavery conditions. The Korean Supreme Court, however, sided with the victims and its ruling has led to concerned Japanese firms facing the liquidation of their assets to compensate victims.

In addition, it has also been reported that Suga told Park that South Korea should provide a solution to the forced labor issue to create an opportunity to improve bilateral relations.

The Kim Dae-jung-Obuchi Joint Declaration was signed Oct. 8, 1998, following then-President Kim Dae-jung’s summit with Keizo Obuchi, who was Japanese prime minister from 1998 to 2000. The declaration states that the two sides will overcome historical issues to create a future-oriented relationship, and details measures such as holding a summit at least once a year and working together on North Korean issues.

In contrast, Park -- who also met with Toshihiro Nikai, secretary-general of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, and Hiroaki Takizawa, director of the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office, during his four-day trip -- expressed optimism on the issue.

“The leaders of the two countries have strong commitment to resolving Korea-Japan issues such as the forced labor issue, and contact at the working level is in progress,” Park was quoted as saying by a local news agency.

Park also stated that the matter of a Korea-China-Japan trilateral summit will work out in a positive direction, while declining to elaborate.

By Choi He-suk (