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Moon calls for talks with Japan over forced labor issue

Reporters raise their hands to get a chance to ask a question of President Moon Jae-in during his New Year press conference at Cheong Wa Dae, Tuesday. Yonhap
Reporters raise their hands to get a chance to ask a question of President Moon Jae-in during his New Year press conference at Cheong Wa Dae, Tuesday. Yonhap

By Jung Da-min

President Moon Jae-in has said Seoul and Tokyo should work together to solve the thorny issues between them, including the issue of compensation for wartime forced laborers.

In the New Year's press conference at Cheong Wa Dae, Tuesday, Moon talked about the series of tit-for-tat moves between Seoul and Tokyo: The Korean top court's 2018 ruling that ordered Japanese firms to compensate Korean victims for their forced labor during the Japanese colonial period; Japan's trade restrictions to Korea in a retaliatory move; Seoul's filing of a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) against Tokyo over the trade issue; and Seoul's consideration of terminating the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Japan.

"But I believe, other than those issues, the Seoul-Tokyo relations are in a good state. Seoul and Tokyo are committed to developing future-oriented bilateral relations considering each other as the closest neighbor," the President said.

Expressing regret over the situation where the trade restrictions are damaging both Korean and Japanese businesses, Moon said the two countries need to resolve the conflicts to rebuild trust.

"The Korean government has presented many possible ways to solve the issue of forced laborer and such efforts have been made at a legislative level as well. Civic groups and lawyers in both countries have proposed to launch a joint consultative body, and the Korean government is willing to participate," Moon said. "The Japanese government should also present its views as Korea's proposal is not the only solution."

Korea has so far made multiple proposals to address the issue, including National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang's bill proposing the setting up of a compensation fund from contributions by the two governments and companies of the two countries, and Japan has yet to respond favorably to any of them.

Moon said the most important thing in resolving the forced labor issue is to get the victims' consent on the solutions, citing the 2015 "comfort women" agreement between the two governments, which excluded the victims' opinions and received a strong public backlash. The Japan-funded Reconciliation and Healing Foundation launched in July 2016 was eventually disbanded in November 2018 without settling the issue.

Meanwhile, the President also said Korea is seeking to bolster ties with China in upcoming years, especially as the year 2022 will mark the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the countries. Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to visit Korea this year while Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will also come to Seoul to attend an annual trilateral leaders' meeting between Korea, China and Japan.

"Leaders of Korea and China have the same opinion that the bilateral relations could make a leap along with the 30th anniversary of diplomatic ties," Moon said. "We will speed up the efforts to find common goals and projects between the Chinese government's Belt and Road Initiative and the Korean government's New Southern Policy and New Northern Policy."


Reporters raise their hands to get a chance to ask a question of President Moon Jae-in during his New Year press conference at Cheong Wa Dae, Tuesday. Yonhap
Reporters raise their hands to get a chance to ask a question of President Moon Jae-in during his New Year press conference at Cheong Wa Dae, Tuesday. Yonhap

By Jung Da-min

President Moon Jae-in has said Seoul and Tokyo should work together to solve the thorny issues between them, including the issue of compensation for wartime forced laborers.

In the New Year's press conference at Cheong Wa Dae, Tuesday, Moon talked about the series of tit-for-tat moves between Seoul and Tokyo: The Korean top court's 2018 ruling that ordered Japanese firms to compensate Korean victims for their forced labor during the Japanese colonial period; Japan's trade restrictions to Korea in a retaliatory move; Seoul's filing of a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) against Tokyo over the trade issue; and Seoul's consideration of terminating the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Japan.

"But I believe, other than those issues, the Seoul-Tokyo relations are in a good state. Seoul and Tokyo are committed to developing future-oriented bilateral relations considering each other as the closest neighbor," the President said.

Expressing regret over the situation where the trade restrictions are damaging both Korean and Japanese businesses, Moon said the two countries need to resolve the conflicts to rebuild trust.

"The Korean government has presented many possible ways to solve the issue of forced laborer and such efforts have been made at a legislative level as well. Civic groups and lawyers in both countries have proposed to launch a joint consultative body, and the Korean government is willing to participate," Moon said. "The Japanese government should also present its views as Korea's proposal is not the only solution."

Korea has so far made multiple proposals to address the issue, including National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang's bill proposing the setting up of a compensation fund from contributions by the two governments and companies of the two countries, and Japan has yet to respond favorably to any of them.

Moon said the most important thing in resolving the forced labor issue is to get the victims' consent on the solutions, citing the 2015 "comfort women" agreement between the two governments, which excluded the victims' opinions and received a strong public backlash. The Japan-funded Reconciliation and Healing Foundation launched in July 2016 was eventually disbanded in November 2018 without settling the issue.

Meanwhile, the President also said Korea is seeking to bolster ties with China in upcoming years, especially as the year 2022 will mark the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the countries. Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to visit Korea this year while Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will also come to Seoul to attend an annual trilateral leaders' meeting between Korea, China and Japan.

"Leaders of Korea and China have the same opinion that the bilateral relations could make a leap along with the 30th anniversary of diplomatic ties," Moon said. "We will speed up the efforts to find common goals and projects between the Chinese government's Belt and Road Initiative and the Korean government's New Southern Policy and New Northern Policy."


Jung Da-min damin.jung@koreatimes.co.kr

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