Japan, S. Korea agree to continue dialogue as disputes go unresolved

27, Sep. 2019

NEW YORK, Kyodo - The foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea failed on Thursday to make progress over their countries' differing views of wartime labor or toward ending their trade dispute, but agreed to continue dialogue and build ties.

In the first meeting since taking office this month, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung Wha the state of bilateral relations is “extremely severe” even though the need for bilateral cooperation in dealing with North Korea is “greater than ever,” a Japanese official said.

Motegi and Kang explained their stance on outstanding issues, the official said, indicating they remained at odds over compensation for wartime labor during Japan's colonization of the Korean Peninsula, and over a recent escalation in their trade row.

Motegi was quoted as saying he hopes to continue diplomatic dialogue toward resolving the wartime labor issue. Kang responded by expressing hope for communication at “various diplomatic levels,” according to the official.

The meeting is in stark contrast with the lack of face-to-face talks between the nations' leaders for a year.

South Korean President Moon Jae In was not among the leaders Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held talks with during his four-day stay in New York for the U.N. General Assembly.

Wrapping up his U.S. trip, Abe repeated his statement Wednesday that South Korea had undermined mutual trust, and criticized Seoul's “unilateral” decision to terminate a bilateral intelligence-sharing pact.

In Thursday's meeting, Motegi urged Kang not to scrap the pact, formally called the General Security of Military Information Agreement.

Bilateral ties started to chill after a series of South Korean court rulings late last year, ordering Japanese firms to compensate for wartime forced labor during Japan's 1910-1945 colonization.

Japan says the rulings are in breach of their bilateral accord, based on the position that both nations agreed in 1965 to settle the issue of compensation finally and completely.

Japan -- which says the trade moves are unrelated to the wartime compensation dispute -- then tightened controls on South Korea-bound exports of some key manufacturing materials, followed by Seoul's removal from its list of preferred trading partners.

South Korea retaliated by scratching Japan from its own list of trusted partners.