• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is not planning to set up a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on the sidelines of a Group of Seven summit in Britain starting next week, Japanese government sources said Saturday, even as both countries recognize the need to improve soured ties.

Suga is set to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden during the G7 summit, slated to run from June 11 to 13 in Cornwall, England, with Moon possibly joining for a trilateral meeting, according to other people familiar with the matter. G7 host Britain has invited Moon as a guest to the in-person summit, as South Korea is not a G7 member.

But Tokyo sees little benefit in holding a bilateral summit with Seoul at this time, as no major progress is expected in the talks on issues involving wartime history, the sources said.

“No preparations have been made or are being considered,” a senior government official said.

Suga and Moon held telephone talks in September last year. But the two countries have not held an in-person leaders summit since December 2019 when Suga’s predecessor, Shinzo Abe, met with Moon in China.

The two countries’ top envoys held their first talks in more than a year on the fringes of the G7 foreign ministerial gathering in London last month but failed to bridge the gap over bilateral issues.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the G20 leaders summit in Osaka in June 2019. Leaders of Japan and South Korea haven't held a summit since December of that year amid frosty ties. | REUTERS
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the G20 leaders summit in Osaka in June 2019. Leaders of Japan and South Korea haven’t held a summit since December of that year amid frosty ties. | REUTERS

There is no sign of South Korea proposing a summit with Japan and even if there is, Suga has no intention of accepting the offer, another Japanese government source said.

South Korean intelligence chief Park Jie-won said last month during a meeting with Suga in Tokyo that his country is hoping to hold a summit with Japan to mend bilateral ties. Suga echoed that sentiment at the time.

The United States is hoping for improved ties between the two key Asian allies since it sees robust three-way coordination as indispensable for curbing North Korea’s weapons development and keeping an increasingly assertive China in check.

Still, Japan-South Korea relations remain at their lowest point in decades following South Korean Supreme Court rulings in 2018 that ordered Japanese companies to compensate plaintiffs who were forced laborers during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

The issue of “comfort women,” a euphemism for women who suffered under Japan’s military brothel system before and during World War II, has also hurt bilateral ties.

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