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March 2, 2021

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Leave past behind us, S. Korea leader urges Japan

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said yesterday that his government is eager for talks with Japan to improve relations following years of bitter feuding over historical grievances, adding that those unresolved issues should not stand in the way of developing “future-oriented” ties.

“There have been times where issues of the past weren’t separated from those of the future and became intermingled with each other. This has impeded forward-looking development,” Moon said in a nationally televised speech commemorating the anniversary of a 1919 Korean uprising against Japanese colonial rule.

“The Korean government is always ready to sit down and have talks with the Japanese government,” he said.

South Korea and Japan have been struggling to repair relations that sank to their lowest point in decades in 2019 following South Korean court rulings that ordered Japanese companies to pay reparations to Koreans who were forced to work in their factories during World War II. Those rulings led to further tensions over trade when Japan put export controls on chemicals vital to South Korea’s semi-conductor industry.

Another sticking point in relations is the issue of Korean women who were sexually enslaved by Japan’s wartime military, with survivors denouncing the Japanese government for refusing to accept legal responsibility for their slavery.

Japan insists all compensation issues were settled under a 1965 treaty normalizing relations and it has reacted angrily to South Korean court rulings.

There is a risk for further deterioration of the relationship if South Korean courts eventually order the liquidation of local assets of Japanese companies that refuse to compensate forced laborers.

While Moon said Seoul will continue to support victims of Japanese wartime atrocities, he stressed the countries “must not let the past hold us back.”


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