Suga Belatedly Replies to Moon's Congratulations

  • By Lee Ha-won, Roh Suk-jo

    September 22, 2020 10:11

    Japan's new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga finally responded Saturday to a congratulatory message from President Moon Jae-in that was sent three days earlier.

    The graceless acknowledgement came after Suga made no mention of Korea in his first press conference in office last Thursday.

    Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga waits for a group photo with his cabinet at his official residence in Tokyo on Sept. 16. /AP-Yonhap

    Cheong Wa Dae on Monday said Suga thanked Moon for the message and stressed that the two countries are "important neighbors." He added hopes that Seoul and Tokyo will build a "future-oriented relationship by overcoming difficult problems."

    Moon said in his message that he is "ready to sit down any time for dialogue with Japan," referring to Tokyo as Seoul's "closest friend." Suga did not take the bait.

    In an article for the forthcoming October edition of the conservative monthly Bungeishunju, Suga insisted that Seoul and Tokyo reached a "final and irreversible agreement" on the issue of compensating Korean women who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese troops during World War II.

    But he warned that the chances of Korea reversing the agreement are "not zero" and revealed that Japan asked the U.S. to "bear witness" to the agreement by getting Washington to issue a statement welcoming the pact.

    In the 1965 treaty normalizing diplomatic ties, Korea jettisoned all claims to reparations for colonial and wartime atrocities in return for a lump sum payment from Japan. But the Supreme Court here ruled in 2018 that a treaty between governments cannot override individual claims for compensation.

    Suga said the U.S. probably knows whether it is Korea or Japan that is "moving the goalposts." This suggests Suga is minded to continue his predecessor Shinzo Abe's policy of ingratiating himself with Washington to get his way in disputes with Korea.

    So far the U.S. has not bitten and asked the neighbors to sort the issue out between themselves.

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