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South Korea and especially President Moon Jae-in seem eager to patch up fractured relations between Tokyo and Seoul, seizing changes in leadership in Japan and the United States and a summit scheduled to be hosted by Seoul as a golden opportunity to score diplomatic points and boost popularity.

A Japan-friendly face has been named as Seoul’s new envoy to Tokyo, and a special meeting between the Koreas, Japan and U.S. has been suggested for during next year’s Olympics. But Japan has remained unmoved by South Korea’s overtures, with the issue of compensation over wartime labor being the perennial sticking point between them, writes Satoshi Sugiyama.

Will a four-party summit meeting really work in Tokyo? As U.S. president, will Joe Biden mediate between Japan and South Korea? And the most important worry for Tokyo: Will South Korea move the goalposts again? In the Opinion section, government adviser Kuni Miyake offers his personal thoughts.

As Japan and South Korea remain deeply divided over historical issues, parliamentarians’ associations from both countries are playing an important role in behind the scenes diplomacy.
As Japan and South Korea remain deeply divided over historical issues, parliamentarians’ associations from both countries are playing an important role in behind the scenes diplomacy.

Meanwhile, lawmakers from the South Korea-Japan Parliamentary Group have been meeting with their counterparts in the Tokyo-based Japan-South Korea Parliamentary Group, notes Eric Johnston in a Q&A about the behind-the-scenes fence-mending efforts by the two groups.

In one sign of possible collateral damage from the ongoing diplomatic row, sources say Japan plans to support a Nigerian nominee over a South Korean to lead the World Trade Organization. Seoul’s nominee, Yoo Myung-hee, now the minister for trade, has repeatedly criticized Japan over the wartime labor issue.

While a resolution of that row looks a long way off, Japan seems to be cruising to a victory on the issue of the official name of the waters between the two countries. The International Hydrographic Organization has tentatively approved a proposal that supports the exclusive use of the name “Japan Sea,” or the Sea of Japan, rather than “East Sea,” as South Korea has been proposing.

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