• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday he hopes to cooperate with Moon Jae-in, who declared victory in South Korea’s presidential election, in grappling with common challenges facing the two nations such as the growing threat posed by North Korea.

“Japan and South Korea face common challenges such as the issue of North Korea. If we cooperate, we can further contribute to the peace and prosperity in the region,” Abe said in a statement.

“South Korea is the most important neighbor with which Japan shares strategic interests. I look forward to working with incoming President Moon Jae-in from now on,” he said.

While offering his congratulations on the election victory, Abe said he hopes to meet with Moon at the earliest possible date to frankly exchange views of mutual interest.

The two leaders could meet for the first time on the margins of a summit of the Group of 20 major economies to be held in July in Germany.

Earlier in the day, Abe said he hopes to work together with the incoming South Korean president while also bringing the United States into discussions about dealing with North Korea.

“I hope to agree with the new president on a plan to promote security cooperation between Japan and South Korea as well as between Japan, the United States and South Korea to deal with the North Korean threat,” he said at a House of Councillors committee.

The South Korean presidential election came amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula but also as Japan and South Korea continue to be mired in a diplomatic row over statues erected in South Korea symbolizing Korean females forced to work in wartime Japanese military brothels.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said that Japan will continue to stress to the new South Korean government the “importance of steadily implementing the Japan-South Korea agreement” struck in December 2015 to “finally and irreversibly” resolve the comfort women issue.

A move by a South Korean civic group to erect a statue symbolizing the “comfort women” outside the Japanese Consulate General in the port city of Busan last December led Japan to recall its ambassador to South Korea for three months in retaliation.

Japan claims that the erection of the statue, which followed the installation of a similar statue in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, contravenes the 2015 agreement.

In line with the terms of the deal, the Japanese government disbursed ¥1 billion ($8.9 million) last year to a South Korean fund to help former comfort women and their families.

In the agreement, South Korea said it “acknowledges” Japan’s concerns about the statue in Seoul and would “strive to solve this issue in an appropriate manner.”

All of the five major candidates running in the South Korean presidential race, including Moon Jae-in of the liberal centrist Democratic Party of Korea, are calling for either scrapping or reviewing the 2015 agreement.

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