Japan sees signs of a “mood” in South Korea to seek talks to salvage a bilateral relationship that has soured over wartime compensation and trade issues, the top government spokesman said Sunday.
“There is a mood that South Korea is seeking some sort of talks as they believe it is not good to leave the current situation as it is,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a panel discussion in Tokyo.
Relations between the neighbors significantly deteriorated after South Korea’s Supreme Court last year ordered Japanese companies to compensate Koreans over forced wartime labor, Suga said.
He reiterated Japan’s position that the issue was settled under a 1965 bilateral pact.
The court decisions have outraged Japan, leading it to remove Seoul from a list of trusted trade partners and impose stricter export controls on some key materials needed by South Korea’s tech industry. South Korea retaliated by scratching Japan from its own list of favored trade partners.
Seoul has also threatened to scrap a military intelligence-sharing pact with Tokyo that helps the two countries counter North Korean missile threats. The General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) is set to expire in November.
The remarks by Suga, one of the closest aides to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, followed a meeting between Abe and South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon on Thursday in Tokyo.
Lee, who visited Japan to attend Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement ceremony on Tuesday, handed Abe a letter from South Korean President Moon Jae-in, which said Japan is an “important partner in cooperating for peace in Northeast Asia,” according to a South Korean government official.
On Sunday, the tourism ministers of the two countries agreed to maintain exchanges in areas such as culture and sports, as the tensions have led to sharp declines in the number of South Korean visitors to Japan in recent months.
“We agreed on the importance of exchanges between our countries,” Kazuyoshi Akaba, Japan’s minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism, said after meeting with Park Yang-eoo in Hokkaido, where they had attended a meeting of Group of 20 tourism ministers.