Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have held their first meeting in 15 months. The gathering also marked the first top-level talks between Tokyo and Seoul since the South Korean Supreme Court ordered a Japanese company in October 2018 to compensate wartime forced workers.
Both leaders just repeated their respective positions. Prime Minister Abe demanded that the South Korean government resolve the forced labor issue as its own responsibility. President Moon repeated his country's position that Japan should retract measures to place stricter regulations on exporting some materials needed to manufacture semiconductors and display panels to South Korea.
Still, both leaders showed some consideration to each other. At a news conference, Abe avoided explicitly claiming that Seoul should rectify a state of violating international law. Moon said he appreciated Tokyo's easing of some of the export controls.
It is of great significance that the Japanese and South Korean leaders held talks and agreed to settle outstanding issues between the two countries through dialogue.
Prime Minister Abe and President Moon agreed to cooperate in responding to the North Korean issue. Japan, which insists that sanctions against Pyongyang be maintained, had been at odds with South Korea, which prioritizes North-South cooperation. It is a step forward since North Korea has been heightening tensions with its neighbors again.
The two leaders should continue dialogue to restore mutual trust. However, the two countries must settle the dispute over the forced labor issue in order to drastically improve bilateral relations.
South Korean legislators submitted a bill aimed at settling the issue by collecting donations from Japanese and South Korean companies to the South Korean National Assembly. The key point of the bill is to encourage Japan to spontaneously extend financial contributions to settle the issue rather than forcing Japanese firms to pay compensation. The bill, which aims to avoid running counter to a 1965 bilateral agreement that the issue of compensation was resolved "finally and completely," shows consideration to Tokyo's position on the issue.
Some officials within the South Korean Blue House executive government office are critical of the bill on the grounds that it does not ensure that Japanese businesses will participate in the scheme. However, the South Korean government should be aware that Seoul should proactively act to resolve the issue.
Sentiment between Japanese and South Korean nationals toward each other has plunged because of the conflict between both governments.
Only 26.7% of those surveyed recently by the Cabinet Office said they feel an affinity toward South Korea, the lowest level since the Japanese government began the survey in 1978. In South Korea, a campaign to boycott Japanese goods is going on and many South Koreans have refrained from traveling to Japan.
Both leaders sent a message to the general public in both countries that bilateral sports and human exchanges are important. The latest meeting is hoped to pave the way for easing mutual distrust that has spread among the peoples of both countries.