NEW YORK – The foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea failed Thursday to make any progress toward resolving bilateral disputes over the contentious issue of compensation for wartime labor and trade, but agreed to continue dialogue.
In his first meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha since taking office earlier this month, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told Kang that the state of bilateral relations is “extremely severe” even though the need for bilateral cooperation in dealing with North Korea is “greater than ever,” a Japanese official said.
“In my meeting with Minister Kang, we shared the importance of building future-oriented ties while explaining our positions over the issues facing us,” Motegi told reporters in New York, where he held bilateral and U.N.-related meetings.
“The foundation of our friendly relationship has been shaken,” Motegi said after the talks, which lasted for 50 minutes — more than twice as long as planned.
His remarks indicated the ministers remain at odds over the issue of compensation for wartime labor, and over the escalating trade row.
Motegi was quoted as telling Kang that he hopes to continue diplomatic dialogue toward resolving the wartime labor issue. Kang responded by expressing hope for communication at “various diplomatic levels,” according to the official.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in was not among the leaders Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held talks with during his four-day stay in New York for the U.N. General Assembly. The two leaders haven’t held face-to-face talks over the past year.
In wrapping up his U.S. trip, Abe repeated his statement Wednesday that South Korea had undermined mutual trust, and criticized Seoul’s “unilateral” decision to terminate a bilateral intelligence-sharing pact.
In Thursday’s meeting, Motegi urged Kang not to scrap the pact, formally called the General Security of Military Information Agreement.
Bilateral ties started to chill after a series of South Korean court rulings late last year ordering Japanese firms to compensate for wartime forced labor during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
Japan says the rulings are in breach of their bilateral accord signed in 1965 to settle the issue of compensation “finally and completely.”
Japan — which says the trade moves are unrelated to the wartime compensation dispute — then tightened controls on South Korea-bound exports of some key manufacturing materials. Japan later removed Seoul from its list of preferred trading partners.
South Korea retaliated by scratching Japan from its own list of trusted partners.
U.S. President Donald Trump touched on Japan-South Korea relations in his meeting Wednesday with Abe, who explained Tokyo’s stance, a senior Japanese government official said earlier, without giving further details.