• Kyodo, staff report

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Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi on Saturday called for an “appropriate response” from Seoul to resolve bilateral disputes over wartime compensation and the issue of “comfort women” in his first contact with his South Korean counterpart, the Foreign Ministry said Sunday.

Hayashi agreed with South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong on the need to speed up diplomatic dialogue to restore “healthy” bilateral ties when they briefly chatted on Saturday at an informal dinner party of a Group of Seven foreign ministerial meeting in Liverpool, England, the ministry said.

Chung approached Hayashi and initiated the chat. While standing, Hayashi explained Japan’s consistent position on the issues, and Chung responded to the call for an “appropriate response” based on South Korea’s stance, the ministry said, without providing further details.

Hayashi and Chung also confirmed cooperation along with mutual ally the United States to deal with North Korea, which has resumed ballistic missile tests, according to the ministry.

Hayashi has not had any telephone talks with Chung since taking office last month, in a sign of soured bilateral ties that were further dampened after South Korea’s top police official recently visited a pair of South Korea-controlled islets in the Sea of Japan, known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea.

Tokyo-Seoul relations deteriorated sharply in late 2018 after South Korea’s top court ordered a Japanese company to pay damages for forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule.

Japan maintains the issue of compensation was settled “completely and finally” by a 1965 bilateral agreement that provided South Korea with financial assistance, and has called on the administration of President Moon Jae-in to resolve the issue.

The countries are also at odds over the issue of “comfort women,” a euphemism for those who suffered under Japan’s military brothel system before and during World War II. They were forced or coerced into sexual servitude under various circumstances, including abduction, deception and poverty.

Chung was invited to expanded sessions of the two-day G7 gathering through Sunday along with foreign ministers from Australia, India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, except Myanmar.

When Chung met then Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi in May on the sidelines of the G7 foreign ministerial meeting in London, Chung was quoted by South Korea’s Foreign Ministry as saying it would be impossible for the two sides to resolve the issues unless Japan has a “correct” perception of history.

Motegi had demanded that South Korea present at an early date a solution that would be acceptable to Tokyo over the issues, the Japanese Foreign Ministry has said.

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