July 19, 2022 13:09
The chief diplomats of Korea and Japan sat down face-to-face for the first time in almost five years on Monday.
Foreign Minister Park Jin met with his counterpart Yoshimasa Hayashi in Tokyo to discuss joint responses to North Korea's nuclear and missile provocations, restoring "favored trading partner" status, reviving an intelligence-sharing pact, and compensation for Korean forced labor victims and women forced into sexual slavery by imperial Japan.
Park also meets Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Tuesday to deliver a message from President Yoon Suk-yeol.
The tone was friendly but cautious after the long freeze. On the compensation for forced labor victims, a compromise is slow to emerge. Park said, "We are operating a public-private council to resolve the issue of forced labor victims and I conveyed our hope to find a solution before Japanese corporate assets [in South Korea] are liquidated."
Hayashi thanked him for South Korea's efforts but stuck to the party line that Seoul must present the solution. Japan insists that all claims for compensation for wartime atrocities were settled by 1965 lump-sum reparations.
The two sides agreed to honor an agreement reached in 2015 for the compensation of Korean women who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II. Under the agreement, struck amid some secrecy by former President Park Geun-hye, South Korea and Japan agreed in principle to discuss steps to restore the honor of the female victims and help them heal their psychological wounds from a charitable fund set up by Japan.
The two ministers also agreed to step up military intelligence-sharing to effectively counter North Korea's provocations. They also talked about export restrictions on certain key semiconductor materials Japan imposed three years ago.
Park said he told Hayashi that taking South Korea off a list of favored trading "lacked justification" and must be reversed. Hayashi expressed willingness to continue negotiations.
But Park's hopes of persuading his counterpart to revive visa-free travel between the two countries were complicated by the latest surge of COVID infections across the world. Japan clings to one of the world's most severe zero-COVID doctrines outside China and allows only South Korean businesspeople and student visa holders to enter. Hayashi said the issue should be discussed "later."
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