HAMBURG, GERMANY – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met South Korean President Moon Jae-in for the first time on Friday, and the two leaders agreed to cooperate on promoting future-oriented ties as neighbors who share strategic interests, and resume reciprocal visits.
Meeting on the sidelines of Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, Abe urged his counterpart to implement the 2015 agreement on resolving the contentious issue of the “comfort women,” Japan’s euphemism for the women forced into Japanese military brothels before and during World War II.
Abe also told Moon that it’s important now to apply maximum pressure on North Korea to put an end to its nuclear and missile programs.
But it is not known whether Abe and Moon made progress in addressing the protracted comfort women dispute.
A senior Japanese official declined to touch on the details of the leaders’ conversation on the issue, except to say that Abe told Moon that the watershed 2015 agreement provides “an indispensable basis for building future-oriented Japan-South Korea relations.”
Abe also said it is in the common interest of both Tokyo and Seoul to “appropriately manage” difficult issues so they will not negatively affect bilateral ties overall, according to the official, who briefed reporters.
The summit was Moon’s first with Abe since he took office in May.
Moon has said many South Koreans cannot “emotionally” accept the agreement, which was struck under the administration of his conservative predecessor, Park Geun Hye.
In an interview with the Washington Post last month, Moon said, “The core to resolving the issue is for Japan to take legal responsibility for its actions and to make an official (government) apology.”
According to the senior Japanese official, Abe told Moon that building future-oriented bilateral ties “will lead to the stability and prosperity of the region and the world.”
Abe was quoted by the official as saying he would like to send a powerful message with Moon to the people of both countries, and the world, that the leaders have shifted their “focus on the plus side” of relations and will closely coordinate and cooperate.
Abe described the two countries as “the most important neighboring countries sharing strategic interests.”
As part of an agreement to resume reciprocal visits by the leaders, Abe said he would like to welcome Moon to Japan during a trilateral summit with China that he plans to host this year.
Moon gave “a positive response,” the Japanese official said.
Abe and Moon also affirmed they would engage in close coordination bilaterally and trilaterally with the United States in countering North Korea’s rising nuclear and missile threats.
Earlier in the day, the two leaders met up with U.S. President Donald Trump and agreed to coordinate more closely in adopting a new U.N. Security Council resolution to sanction North Korea for the intercontinental ballistic missile test it conducted Tuesday.
They pledged to boost pressure on North Korea to curb its weapons programs, as well as to push China — the North’s main economic and diplomatic benefactor — to rein in its defiant neighbor, according to a senior Japanese official.
Abe and Moon backed Washington’s recent imposition of sanctions on Chinese entities suspected of channeling funds toward North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, the official told reporters.
Abe, Moon and Trump met on the sidelines of a two-day meeting of the Group of 20 major economies that began Friday in the German city, their first trilateral summit since Trump and Moon took office in January and May, respectively.
The three leaders affirmed they will lead efforts to send a strong G-20 message to North Korea regarding its nuclear ambitions and the launch of its first ICBM capable of hitting the United States, the Japanese official said.
The provocative test was Pyongyang’s latest violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions banning it from conducting nuclear and missile activities.
Abe condemned what North Korea said was a successful ICBM test, saying the provocation “shows North Korea has no intention of holding serious dialogue. The international community needs to step up pressure on North Korea.”
“It makes no sense to hold talks for the sake of talks. It is indispensable now to put pressure on North Korea to compel it to have serious dialogue,” Abe was quoted as saying by the Japanese official. “Japan, the United States and South Korea will continue to coordinate toward the adoption at the U.N. Security Council of a new resolution including severe measures.”
Asked by a reporter at the summit — part of which was open to the media — whether he has given up on Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump said, “Never give up.”
Asked if he was disappointed by China, Trump did not answer.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un says his regime will never abandon nuclear weapons and will continue to send the United States more “gift packages” of missile and nuclear tests — activities he describes as self-defense measures.
The ICBM launch marked a major step forward in the North’s pursuit of a nuclear-tipped missile that can hit the U.S. mainland. Analysts say the flight data suggest it is capable of reaching Alaska, representing a potentially major shift in the security landscape.
Kim urged officials and scientists to “frequently send big and small ‘gift packages’ to the Yankees” and said he will push ahead with bolstering the North’s nuclear arsenal “unless the U.S. hostile policy and nuclear threat to the DPRK are definitely terminated,” the official Korean Central News Agency reported Wednesday.DPRK is the acronym for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s formal name. South Korea’s official name is the Republic of Korea (ROK).
At the summit, the three leaders effectively urged China, which recently banned coal imports from the North, to tighten sanctions as well. They also affirmed that Russia has an important role to play in denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, too, the Japanese official said.
China accounts for about 90 percent of North Korea’s trade and is a major supplier of oil to the country. But in the eyes of Washington, Tokyo, Seoul and many other countries, Beijing hasn’t trying hard enough to use its influence and economic leverage to force Pyongyang to change its behavior.
Diplomats say China has not been fully enforcing U.N. sanctions and has resisted using tougher measures, such as an oil embargo, bans on guest workers from North Korea, and sanctions on Chinese banks and companies that do business with the hermit country.
Expressing his frustration with China’s inaction, Trump issued a tweet on Tuesday that said, “Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!”
On Wednesday, Trump posted another tweet saying, “Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40 percent in the first quarter. So much for China working with us — but we had to give it a try!”
China is apparently reluctant to use heavy pressure on the North because any instability in the regime could send waves of refugees fleeing to northeastern China, and because the country represents a strategic “buffer zone” between it and U.S. ally South Korea.
China instead has called on the countries involved to exercise restraint and resolve the North Korean nuclear issue through negotiations.