Whether a meeting between Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and South Korean President Moon Jae-in will be held is in focus ahead of the in-person summit of the Group of Seven major industrial countries in Britain.
But the Japanese side is cautious about arranging a Suga-Moon summit, with less than a year to go before the end of the South Korean leader's term of office and Seoul unlikely to act positively to resolve wartime labor and other pending issues between the two East Asian nations, informed sources said.
The G7 summit is set to take place in Cornwall, England, on June 11-13. Although South Korea is not a G7 member, Britain, host of the summit, is inviting Moon to the major political event as a guest. The other G7 members are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.
Moon congratulated Suga on becoming prime minister during phone talks held soon after the Japanese leader took office in September last year. But they have yet to hold a face-to-face meeting.
"It would be possible (for Suga and Moon) to have contact if they are in the same place," a senior official of Japan's Foreign Ministry said, noting that Suga's predecessor, Shinzo Abe, was approached by Moon.
When a series of summits related to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations were held in Thailand in November 2019, Moon made contact with Abe and they held a brief meeting.
Tokyo did not consider the talks to be an official bilateral summit. But the South Korean side unilaterally released photos of the Moon-Abe meeting at the time to demonstrate that the two countries' relations were improving.
The Japanese side is cautious about setting up a Suga-Moon meeting during the upcoming G7 summit, which will also be attended by the European Union, because Seoul has shown no signs of moving to solve the issues of wartime labor and Korean "comfort women," sources said. "Comfort women" is a euphemism for those who suffered under Japan’s military brothel system before and during World War II.
During a meeting with Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi in London on May 5 this year, South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong said that past issues between the two countries cannot be resolved without Japan's correct understanding of history.
Japan urged South Korea to quickly correct what it called its violation of international law. But Seoul did not respond.
Tokyo believes that it is difficult to achieve further progress on the pending issues under the Moon administration.
Moon is already "a lame duck," another senior Foreign Ministry official said, adding that "we are not in the mood" to arrange a bilateral summit.
A Japanese government official echoed the view, saying, "It may be necessary to hold a meeting of foreign ministers even if progress is not expected, but it's not the case with a summit meeting."
Even if South Korea seeks contact with the Japanese side during the G7 summit in Britain, Suga and Moon would only hold talks while standing, informed sources said.
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