SEOUL – South Korea has named a former National Security Office official as its next ambassador to Japan as part of its regular spring reshuffle of senior diplomats, according to local media reports.
Yonhap News Agency and other media reported that the government has tapped Nam Gwan-pyo, who recently stepped down as deputy chief of the NSO, to replace Ambassador Lee Su-hoon.
Nam, 62, was first secretary of the South Korean Embassy in Tokyo between 1992 and 1995 and also served as ambassador to Hungary and Sweden.
He handled treaty issues while working at the Foreign Ministry, thereby gaining experience that could be helpful in addressing current legal issues with Japan arising from its 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
One focal point in the recent downturn in bilateral relations has been Supreme Court rulings in South Korea ordering Japanese firms to compensate for wartime forced labor, which Japan sees as a breach of a 1965 pact that settled the issue of compensation “finally and completely.”
The two governments have also verbally clashed over an incident in which a South Korean warship allegedly locked its fire-control radar on a Japanese patrol plane, as well as Seoul’s accusations of extremely low flights over its ships by the Self-Defense Forces.
Another recent flash point was comments made by South Korea’s National Assembly speaker seeking an Imperial apology to resolve a dispute over women who provided sex — including those against their will — for Japanese troops before and during World War II.
But in a speech last Friday marking the 100th anniversary of the launch of a popular uprising against Japanese colonial rule, President Moon Jae-in refrained from direct criticism of Japan in an apparent effort not to aggravate tensions further.
He pledged to beef up cooperation with Japan to ensure peace on the Korean Peninsula
“We cannot change the past but can transform the future,” he said. “When Korea and Japan firmly join hands while reflecting on history, the era of peace will approach our side with large strides. When the pain of victims is substantively healed through concerted efforts, Korea and Japan will become genuine friends with heart-to-heart understanding.”