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Japan urges S. Korea to resolve feud as leaders hold first talks

Yoshihide Suga. PHOTO: REUTERS. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

TOKYO, Sep 24, 2020, Kyodo. Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Thursday told South Korean President Moon Jae In that it was up to Seoul to take steps to resolve a diplomatic feud over wartime labor in the first talks between the leaders of the neighboring countries in nine months, Kyodo News reported.

Suga urged Moon to create an opportunity for Japan and South Korea to “return to a constructive relationship,” according to a Japanese official who briefed reporters, continuing the hardline stance taken by his predecessor Shinzo Abe.

Bilateral ties have remained frayed since South Korea’s top court in October 2018 ordered a Japanese steelmaker to compensate four Koreans for labor during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula through the end of World War II.

Tokyo has bashed the court ruling as going against a 1965 agreement under which Japan provided South Korea with financial aid under the understanding that the compensation issue would be settled “completely and finally.”

After the phone call, which lasted about 20 minutes and was their first since the Japanese prime minister took office last week, Suga told reporters that he would continue to “strongly urge South Korea to take appropriate action.”

Meanwhile, he also said, “Japan and South Korea are extremely important neighbors and we must work together as well as with the United States to deal with issues including North Korea.”

The two agreed to work toward allowing businesspeople to travel between the two countries amid restrictions meant to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, the Japanese official said.

It was the first time the leaders of Japan and South Korea have spoken since a meeting between Abe and Moon in Chengdu, China, in December last year.

Since taking over for Abe, who resigned citing a health problem, Suga has spoken by phone with a number of world leaders including U.S. President Donald Trump, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The Japanese government’s top spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, said Thursday a call is being arranged with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Suga is also likely to speak with Chinese President Xi Jinping and French President Emmanuel Macron, officials said.

Suga affirmed in a conversation earlier Thursday with U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres that Japan will continue to work with the international community to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

The Japanese prime minister asked Guterres for the United Nations’ continued support in efforts to secure the return of Japanese nationals who were abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.

Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister, offered his full backing on the abduction issue and stressed the importance of working toward denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

The two also agreed to cooperate on other global issues including climate change, according to the ministry.

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