National / Politics

Abe, Moon brainstorm on North Korea, re-examine forced-labor issue

In half-hour phone chat, leaders hash out thorny wartime redress issue

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed to closely cooperate on threats from North Korea during a 30-minute telephone conversation Friday, a Japanese official who briefed reporters said.

The leaders also briefly exchanged opinions on thorny historical issues involving forced labor during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, the official said.

Abe explained Japan’s basic position on the issue, emphasizing that the two countries should “properly manage” sensitive issues to build “a future-oriented” relationship, the official said.

The same person also emphasized that most of Friday’s conversation was about North Korea-related issues, but refused to explain what Moon specifically said about forced labor.

In contrast with the South Korean government’s previous stance, Moon says that individual compensation claims for forced labor remain valid despite the signing of the 1965 Japan-South Korean treaty and attached agreements that put an end to compensation claims.

Moon’s about-face, expressed last week at a news conference, frustrated officials in Tokyo.

Nonetheless, for Japan, joint cooperation with South Korea is seen as critically important in coping with the threat posed by nuclear-armed North Korea.

In the meantime, according to Korean news agency Yonhap, Moon cited a South Korean Supreme Court ruling during his phone call with Abe to defend his claim that the right to demand compensation remains intact despite the signing of the 1965 Japan-South Korean treaty, which normalized their postwar relationship.

“Moon made the remarks to express his desire for the issue to not pose any stumbling blocks to the development of the two countries’ future-oriented relationship,” an anonymous South Korean presidential aide was quoted as saying by Yonhap.

Moon agreed that Japan, South Korea and the United States should “closely cooperate” in dealing with the North’s nuclear and ballistic development programs.

Abe told Moon that he shares Moon’s call for “a peaceful solution,” but argued that the two countries should stay prepared for “unexpected contingencies,” a Japanese official said.

Also on Friday, a key Japan-South Korea agreement to share military secrets was automatically extended for another year, as both leaders failed to state any claims for or against it by Thursday.

Former South Korean President Park Geun-hye agreed in 2016 to share key military secrets with Japan when the two nations concluded the General Security of Military Information Agreement.

Park’s decision was controversial in South Korea, and during the presidential campaign earlier this year, Moon indicated he might review the agreement.

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