|Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon speaks about maintenance problems near Osong Station at the headquarters of Korail in Daejeon, Thursday. Yonhap|
By Park Ji-won
SEJONG ― Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said South Korea will continue pursuing a low-key approach in assessing North Korean nuclear issues by saying Seoul plans to boost various inter-Korean programs relating to cultural exchanges.
"South Korea plans to provide various types of corresponding measures next year to help North Korea accelerate its move to dismantle its nuclear program. Having more culture and sports exchanges, family reunion events and applying steps to further ease military tensions are the measures that Seoul is considering," Lee said in a dinner meeting with local reporters at the Prime Minister's Office in Sejong, late Wednesday.
His remarks echoed President Moon Jae-in's softened approach in dealing with the U.S. and international communities as a mediator and facilitator between North Korea and the U.S. in the stalled denuclearization talks.
Regarding the recent court decision to order Japanese firms to compensate forced South Korean laborers during the past Japanese colonial rule, he emphasized that Seoul is having closed-door discussions with Japan to explain the South's position over the issue.
On the subject of a specific plan to deal with the court decision, Lee said "We are operating an inter-ministry task force underneath because there are many things to be checked in advance. Otherwise, things might be tough (to deal with.)"
"Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono hopes to have unofficial talks with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha over the issue," Lee said.
The two countries have been facing a diplomatic confrontation since Oct. 30 when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of South Koreans seeking compensation from Japan's Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. for their wartime forced labor.
Kono issued a statement calling the Seoul court's decisions "totally unacceptable." Prime Minister Lee later fired back releasing a rare statement criticizing the statement by Kono by saying; "Japanese government leaders' remarks are inappropriate and unwise."
Regarding worsening economic indices, Lee admitted that the government is facing growing challenges to address economic issues.
"I cannot deny the risks caused by economic policy changes. The measures to raise the minimum wage and shorten working hours were something we needed to pursue and should have done earlier. But they were introduced all at once, burdening some people," he said.
Aging society is another factor hurting economic fundamentals. South Korea is Asia's fourth-largest economy.
"The aging population has a broad impact on society. I think the collapse of Japan's economic bubble started along with the aging society. The phenomenon has started to penetrate into (South Korea)."
Over North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's possible visit to Seoul by December, Lee said there are no clear signs that Kim will visit Seoul.
"Originally, there was no agreement that specifies a concrete schedule. We asked for understanding of the interpretation that the visit will be happening within this year."