Almost a month into office, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi has no prospect of holding talks with his South Korean counterpart, Chung Eui-yong, after the South Korean police leader visited disputed islands in the Sea of Japan last month.
With the term of office for South Korean President Moon Jae-in set to expire in May next year, relations between Japan and South Korea have been strained further.
Hayashi, who assumed the ministerial post on Nov. 10, has held telephone and video conferences with his counterparts from about 15 countries, including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Nov. 13. Hayashi has also met in person with visiting Paraguayan Foreign Minister Euclides Acevedo.
But Chung is conspicuously absent from the list of Hayashi’s dialogue partners, and a senior official of the Foreign Ministry said clearly that there will be no talks with South Korea for some time.
The ministry’s lack of enthusiasm is pronounced, considering that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida held phone talks with Moon about 10 days after he took office on Oct. 4.
The cautious attitude reflects the Nov. 16 landing by Kim Chang-yong, commissioner-general of the South Korean National Police Agency, on the islands, effectively controlled by Seoul and claimed by Tokyo. The islands are called Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea.
Senior diplomats from Japan, the United States and South Korea canceled a joint news conference following their meeting that took place in Washington soon after the landing, due to Japan’s protest against the visit.
The news conference was supposed to be an opportunity to highlight the unity of the three countries in dealing with issues related to North Korea and China.
The island visit came “at the worst possible time,” an official of the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.
Hayashi had initially planned to hold phone talks with Chung if the schedule allowed, but the Takeshima landing brought preparations to a grinding halt, according to informed sources.
The two countries have been continuing working-level dialogue on bilateral issues, such as wartime labor and “comfort women,” mostly from the Korean Peninsula, who were forced or coerced into sexual servitude under various circumstances, including abduction, deception and poverty.
A diplomatic source said that if South Korea proposes ministerial talks, Japan would consider it. But there is no strong momentum for creating an early opportunity.
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