National / Politics

South Korean prime minister says he's keen to improve ties with Japan

JIJI

South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon expressed an eagerness to improve relations with Japan, during a ceremony in Chongqing, China.

South Korea is trying to overcome its unfortunate history with Japan and develop their 1,500-year history of bilateral exchanges and cooperation in a future-oriented way, Lee emphasized.

Lee made the remarks at a ceremony Friday to commemorate the restoration of the headquarters building of the Korean Liberation Army, which was set up by the Korean provisional government during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. The prime minister’s office released the remarks.

Lee did not refer to specific political issues, such as recent rulings by the South Korean Supreme Court that ordered Japanese companies to pay compensation to South Koreans who claim to have been forced to work for them during World War II.

During a recent legislative session, Lee also expressed his readiness to make efforts to improve relations with Japan, saying that back-door talks were underway.

The Korean provisional government was established in Shanghai in April 1919 to achieve independence from Japan. The government was later transferred to Chongqing.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in had asked China to restore the building that housed the army headquarters to mark the 100th anniversary of the provisional government’s establishment.

The South Korean daily JoongAng Ilbo, in an editorial on Saturday, criticized the Moon administration for apparently giving up on resolving the friction with Japan even as bilateral relations continued to worsen after the court rulings against the Japanese companies.

The paper cited a speech by U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris on Wednesday calling for an improvement of relations between Japan and South Korea.

In the speech, Harris quoted U.S. President Donald Trump’s remarks highlighting the importance of Japan-South Korea relations in the trilateral ties including the United States.

The United States started speaking out on Japan-South Korea relations after keeping silent on bilateral disputes for two years, as it sees the current situation as serious, the daily said.

The editorial urged Moon and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to hold talks at an early date to find a realistic solution.