South Korea and Japan should work out their wartime disputes before it is too late, President Moon Jae-in said in his first phone call with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida since he took office last week, Cheong Wa Dae said Friday.
But the talks, which came amid worsening ties over disagreements on virtually every issue between the two neighbors, did little to close the widening gap.
“We should leave open our communication channels and continue to engage each other for a way out of the box we’re in. Especially for sex slave victims, we do not have much time left to bring closure,” Moon said, referring to South Koreans who were forced to work for Japanese firms and brothels during World War II.
South Korea and Japan reached two deals in 1965 and 2015 respectively. Tokyo describes them as settling all damages owed to Seoul. The Moon Jae-in administration maintains Japan could do more for the victims until they are given the right consolation, other than the monetary compensation.
But Kishida said Korea should suggest ways to work out the disagreement. According to Kyodo News, Kishida told reporters that he asked Moon to roll out “appropriate response” on the wartime disputes, essentially repeating what his predecessors had said.
Kishida did not elaborate on what he meant by an appropriate response. Experts said Kishida was referring to concessions, commensurate with upholding the two deals signed earlier. But that is not likely to happen anytime soon, they said.
“Moon just said diplomacy on disputes in the call. That’s where he’s stood since he came to office in 2017 and I don’t see any signs of a shift in the position,” said Park Cheol-hee, a professor of international studies at Seoul National University.
The call showed Moon and Kishida were at loggerheads over their approach to North Korea as well, Park added.
Kishida supported resuming nuclear talks and Moon Praised his open willingness to broach the North Korea issue. But Kishida stood firm on enforcing sanctions over the regime. The Moon government is willing to compromise on them to open talks and is working to make that happen.
Park said mending ties would be a hard sell for Moon, who has neither time nor political capital for a last-minute breakthrough. Moon, who leaves office in May next year, cannot risk being seen as soft on Japan when he wants his successor to carry on with his legacies.
Meanwhile, Moon said South Korea and Japan should work together to fight COVID-19 and deal with the disruptions the pandemic has brought to the global economy.
By Choi Si-young (firstname.lastname@example.org