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S. Korean media worry Japan ties could worsen after Cabinet reshuffle

This file photo shows the national flags of Japan and South Korea. (Kyodo)

SEOUL (Kyodo) -- South Korean media reported Wednesday's reshuffle in Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's Cabinet by citing concerns that already thorny bilateral ties could worsen.

The media largely viewed the new Cabinet lineup, which included the transfer of Foreign Minister Taro Kono to the post of defense minister, as an extreme rightward tilt and predicted a hawkish stance toward South Korea.

As foreign minister, Kono took a tough stance on South Korea over a diplomatic feud stemming from South Korean top court rulings last year that ordered some Japanese companies pay compensation over wartime forced labor.

South Korean media described Kono's successor, former economic revitalization minister Toshimitsu Motegi, as someone who has Abe's confidence.

Abe appointed Isshu Sugawara as new trade minister, who will handle trade disputes with South Korea in the wake of Japan's introduction of export control measures that Seoul sees as retaliation over the court rulings.

The measures cover materials needed by South Korean manufacturers of semiconductors and display panels.

Japan maintains that the issue of compensation stemming from its 1910-1945 colonial rule of Korea was settled "finally and completely" in a 1965 bilateral agreement under which Japan provided South Korea with hundreds of millions of dollars in loans and grants.

Yonhap News Agency said the new lineup shows Japan's intention not to concede to South Korea over historical issues.

The appointment of Koichi Hagiuda, a close aide to Abe, as education minister also has South Korean media worried that tensions between the two countries could rise over descriptions of Japan's colonial rule in Japanese history textbooks.

South Korea's news broadcaster YTN said the theme of Wednesday's reshuffle was anti-South Korea and historical revisionism, and criticized it as a preparation for becoming a country that can go to war through a revision to the postwar war-renouncing Constitution.

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