Japan’s new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Thursday called for better ties with South Korea in talks with President Moon Jae-in, the first in months between leaders of the countries.
Suga, who took office last week, said he told Moon in a phone call that the countries must repair their “difficult” bilateral relations, which are mired in a long-running dispute over issues dating back Japan’s occupation of the Korean peninsula.
“To President Moon, I said we must not leave unattended the current extremely difficult bilateral relations, which are being harmed by various problems,” Suga told reporters at his office in Tokyo after the call.
But Suga made clear he saw the ball as being in Seoul’s court when it comes to resolving the disputes, including over compensation for the use of forced labour by Japan during its wartime occupation.
“Based on Japan’s consistent position on various issues, I want to continue urging South Korea to take appropriate actions,” he said.
Suga took office last week after the resignation of Shinzo Abe. The call was the first time the leaders of the two countries have spoken since Abe and Moon met last December in China.
Japan and South Korea have long had uneasy diplomatic relations, with ties coloured by the history of Tokyo’s brutal colonisation of the peninsula through the end of World War II.
In recent years, Tokyo and Seoul have imposed reciprocal trade sanctions and clashed over a wide range of issues including wartime sex slavery and forced labour.
In 2018, the South Korean Supreme Court ruled that victims of forced labour had a right to seek compensation from Tokyo.
Japan argues the issue was settled by a 1965 treaty that normalised bilateral relations and urged the South Korean government to deal the ruling, which Tokyo said violated the treaty.
Suga said he and Moon also discussed cooperation in the fight against coronavirus, as well as dealing with North Korea, and strengthening policy coordination between the two US allies and Washington.