Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga plans to hold a series of bilateral talks with foreign leaders who visit the country for the Tokyo Olympics this summer, but he remains cautious about a Japan-South Korea summit amid strained ties between the two East Asian neighbors.
During the Tokyo Games, French President Emmanuel Macron and some other foreign leaders are expected to visit Japan.
A focal point for Suga's Olympic diplomacy is whether South Korean President Moon Jae-in will visit Japan, and a Japan-South Korea summit will be held for the first time since December 2019, when the president met with Suga's predecessor, Shinzo Abe, in China, informed sources said.
The South Korean side believes that if a Suga-Moon meeting is held, it could help pave the way for improving the bilateral relationship, the sources said.
But Japan is cautious as it expects little progress on wartime labor and other bilateral issues.
Suga did not hold talks with Moon during a summit of the Group of Seven major industrial nations in Britain earlier this month. They only exchanged greetings. While South Korea is not a member of the G7 forum, Moon was invited to the summit as a guest.
In talks with reporters after his greeting with Moon, Suga said the time was not right for a summit with South Korea as promises between the two countries have not been fulfilled, citing the issues of wartime labor and former "comfort women," who suffered under Japan’s military brothel system before and during World War II.
In talks in Seoul on Monday, senior Japanese and South Korean foreign ministry officials remained apart over wartime labor and other issues.
On South Korean court rulings that ordered Japanese firms to pay compensation to workers forced to work there during wartime, Japan reiterated its stance that the issue was resolved by the 1965 bilateral pact on property and claims.
The South Korean side said that the Japanese government needs to show sincerity.
While Moon aims for reconciliation between North and South Korea, some believe that a visit to Japan by the South Korean leader during the Tokyo Olympics will not be of much benefit for him because North Korea has decided not to take part in the games.
"Even if Moon visits Japan for the Tokyo Games, Suga may only meet with him in a reception," a Japanese government source said.
"Moon may visit Japan if he can hold talks with Suga," another Japanese government source said. "But if not, he would not come," the source said.
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