Foreign Minister Taro Kono expressed hope Wednesday that Tokyo and Seoul can work to improve bilateral relations that have cooled following court rulings in South Korea on wartime labor.
Tokyo is waiting to see how Seoul will respond to the recent rulings ordering Japanese companies to pay compensation over forced labor, Kono said, as Japan believes the decisions undermine the legal basis of bilateral ties.
Although bilateral relations are “facing very difficult issues, we hope to overcome them,” Kono said at a news conference in Tokyo.
“We believe that South Korea will take steps in a way that will not undermine the legal basis of bilateral relations so we’d like to wait for them,” Kono said.
South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon has been considering what steps to take following the rulings.
Japan maintains that the issue of compensation was settled “completely and finally” through a 1965 bilateral agreement and the South Korean rulings are “in breach of international law.” The agreement served as the basis for Japan and South Korea to establish diplomatic ties.
The rulings came as the two countries marked the 20th anniversary of a joint declaration designed to develop ties in a forward-looking manner.
“I was looking forward to moving bilateral relations forward” this year, Kono said. “But unfortunately, we’ve seen various issues coming up.”
Kono said he has been engaged in discussions over how to develop future-oriented ties with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, with whom he believes personal trust has been built.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have not held formal talks since the rulings were handed down in October and November.
During a meeting in Seoul last week with a cross-party group of Japanese lawmakers, Moon reportedly called for talks between the two countries to resolve the latest row, saying that “the right for an individual to seek compensation has not expired.”