|Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is raising concerns about bilateral relations with hardline remarks with regard to outstanding issues with Korea since taking office. Reuters-Yonhap|
By Do Je-hae
Korean lawmakers who belong to a Korea-Japan friendship association will be in Japan in mid-November to discuss ways to ease the lingering conflict over the issue of wartime forced laborers.
According to latest reports, the two sides are coordinating a visit by a delegation of lawmakers from the Korea-Japan Parliamentarians' Union to Japan from Nov. 12 to 14.
The delegation will be led by Rep. Kim Jin-pyo of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, who was appointed head of the union last month. A delegation of Japanese lawmakers will arrive in Korea, starting Saturday, to discuss details of the Korean delegation's visit, which is reportedly seeking to meet new Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
The lawmakers' visit to Japan comes amid rising tensions between the two countries. But it remains to be seen how much they will be able to achieve in improving bilateral relations. Lawmakers of the union visited Japan last year at the height of the Korea-Japan conflict in August, but nothing much came of it.
Tokyo is yet to make any meaningful response to President Moon Jae-in's offer of talks in his Aug. 15 Liberation Day speech.
"In 2005, four victims of forced labor filed a damages suit against Japanese companies that mobilized Korean workers in the colonial period," Moon said. "In 2018, the Supreme Court of Korea ruled in their favor. A Supreme Court ruling has the highest legal authority and executory power within the Republic of Korea. My administration respects the judiciary's decision, and we have been engaging in consultations with the Japanese government on how to reach a satisfactory resolution to which the victims could agree. The door for such consultations remains wide open. My administration is ready to sit down with the Japanese government at any time to discuss these issues."
The two leaders held phone talks Sept. 24 for the first time after Suga took office and agreed on the need to establish "forward-looking relations."
|Japanese newspapers report on the Sept. 24 phone call between President Moon Jae-in and new Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Korea Times file|
But Suga recently said he will forgo a Korea-Japan-China meeting planned to take place in Seoul if there is no progress from the Korean side on resolving the forced labor issue.
Moon held a summit with Suga's predecessor Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the trilateral summit in December 2019 in Chengdu, China. That summit softened the escalating tension between the two leaders since the 2018 Supreme Court ruling and the trade conflict in the summer of 2019. It was the first time the leaders had sat face to face since a summit on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York in September 2018, ending an unusually long break in summitry between the two neighbors.
Seoul is still set on inviting Suga to the summit to start discussions on crafting a solution to the forced labor issue that is acceptable to all parties. "Our government will continue to strive for the success of the trilateral summit," presidential spokesman Kang Min-seok said during a briefing Oct.14.
Despite a change of power in Japan, Suga holds the country's rigid position that Seoul is primarily responsible for resolving the conflict over the forced labor ruling.
Seoul has upheld the ruling that recognized individual rights to seek compensation for acts against humanity despite state-to-state compensation through the 1965 normalization treaty between the two countries. Tokyo has refused to acknowledge the ruling and has claimed that all colonial-era related compensation was completely resolved through the treaty.
Aside from the historical row, the two countries are engaged in a battle at the World Trade Organization (WTO) over heightened export restrictions imposed by Japan on materials crucial to Korea's high-tech sector. Korea has seen these restrictions as retaliation for the 2018 court ruling.