Korea ruling party says nominee to work to rehabilitate Japan ties

20-Oct-2021 Intellasia | Kyodo | 5:02 AM Print This Post

The leader of South Korea’s ruling party said Monday that its presidential candidate Lee Jae Myung, if elected, will work to rehabilitate soured ties with Japan by taking practical steps such as economic cooperation.

In his first interview with foreign media since the Democratic Party chose the governor of Gyeonggi Province as its candidate in the March election, Song Young Gil said he himself will also work to improve bilateral ties through the personal connections he has inside Japan’s ruling coalition.

Song’s remarks were in response to a question about Lee’s stance toward Japan, which is seen inside Japan as hard-line given his past remarks.

“We are going to prioritise practicality the most, and I am sure that the Democratic Party would be better at solving ongoing problems involving the two countries,” Song said at the National Assembly in Seoul. “In that sense, the first agenda would be economics, especially the white list issue.”

In July 2019, Japan imposed stricter regulations on South Korea-bound exports of materials crucial to the production of semiconductors and display panels, citing undermined trust between the two countries. It proceeded to remove South Korea from a “white list” of trusted trade partners that receive preferential treatment.

The Japanese moves came after South Korea’s top court in late 2018 ordered Japanese firms to compensate Korean plaintiffs over forced labour during World War II, plunging the increasingly frosty ties to the worst level in decades.

Japan has objected to the Supreme Court rulings and subsequent legal moves, calling on the South Korean government to take proper steps to deal with the issue.

To solve the wartime labour compensation issue, Song said, “We can discuss ways to raise funds or use the remainder of the 1 billion yen from the foundation.”

He was referring to a foundation established in South Korea with a 1 billion yen ($8.75 million) contribution from the Japanese government based on a 2015 bilateral agreement on “comfort women” who were forced to work in wartime Japanese military brothels.

The foundation was dissolved in 2019 after making cash payments to many of the eligible women.

Song stressed that finding a point of agreement through a series of talks at different levels between the two countries is important in settling the wartime issues.

The party leader also touched on his trip to the United States last month. He said he came away feeling the United States is very concerned about relations between South Korea and Japan, both its key allies in Asia, adding that he heard Secretary of State Antony Blinken has repeatedly met with the South Korean ambassador to discuss ways to improve the ties between Seoul and Tokyo.

About inter-Korean ties, Song said it depends on North Korea’s stance whether another meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae In and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could be held. Moon’s single five-year term ends in May.

“What we need now are measures to build trust (between the two Koreas),” Song added, claiming that reopening an industrial complex in the border city of Kaesong in North Korea could be one of such measures.

The complex was the major inter-Korean joint project, but the South Korean government said in 2016 that it was completely suspending operations there over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programmes.

Lee, the Democratic Party nominee, has no experience in national-level affairs.

Song said his nomination shows people’s “strong desire for change.”

While Lee faces a corruption scandal surrounding a land development project in Seongnam during his time as mayor of the city, Song said, “Morality is also very important, but I see more demand for a president that can actually solve economic problems at hand.”

The main opposition and conservative People Power Party is scheduled to select its nominee on November 5, with former Prosecutor general Yoon Suk Yeol widely expected to be chosen.



Category: Japan, Korea

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