SEOUL – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korea President Moon Jae-in will meet for a summit next week in China, their first in 15 months, the South Korean presidential office announced Friday.
The formal talks between the two leaders will be held Tuesday in China’s southwestern city of Chengdu on the sidelines of a trilateral summit with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
Moon and Abe will “exchange thoughts on ongoing issues regarding ties between the countries,” Kim Hyun-chong, deputy national security adviser, told reporters at the presidential office.
Kim added that, given recent difficulties in the bilateral relationship, holding the summit itself is very meaningful and could offer a chance to improve their ties.
Reflecting severely strained relations over compensation for wartime forced labor as well as trade and security issues, Abe and Moon have not held formal talks since September last year, apart from a short conversation last month on the fringes of a multilateral gathering.
A senior South Korean government official speaking off the record voiced optimism that the summit could bring momentum to talks with Tokyo on their export control systems.
Last month, South Korea decided to suspend its earlier decision to terminate the pact after agreeing with Japan to hold discussions aimed at lifting tightened trade controls.
The summit will be closely watched for whether it can set the stage for repairing ties, more than a year after South Korean courts ordered Japanese companies to pay compensation for wartime forced labor during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.
The neighbors remain at loggerheads, as Japan says the issue of compensation for wartime labor was already settled under a 1965 bilateral accord establishing diplomatic ties, with Tokyo providing funds to Seoul as “economic cooperation.”
On the court rulings, South Korea says its hands are tied because of the separation of powers, while Tokyo has been urging Seoul to follow through on the bilateral accord.
The South Korean official also commented on a controversial bill for wartime laborers that was submitted to South Korea’s National Assembly this week, saying if Japanese companies do not provide funds for compensation as called for by the bill, the measure may fail to achieve its objective.