|President Moon Jae-in, left, and Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon participate in a Cabinet meeting at Cheong Wa Dae, Tuesday. Yonhap|
By Park Ji-won
Chances are high that Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon will participate in the Oct. 22 coronation of Japanese Emperor Naruhito in Tokyo instead of President Moon Jae-in, political and diplomatic sources said, Tuesday.
"[The administration] is considering sending the PM for the upcoming enthronement ceremony held in Japan. But this is not a final call," a diplomatic source who is familiar with the matter said.
"As the coronation date is nearing, it is largely expected that the final decision will be made next week at the earliest possible date. Still, there are chances that the South would send another politician instead of Lee," another source said.
However, the Prime Minister's Office declined to comment. "Nothing has been decided," the office said, adding it is waiting for Cheong Wa Dae's decision.
Amid escalating tensions between South Korea and Japan over the handling of a historical issue related to wartime forced labor, attention is on who will be attending the ceremony and whether the visit will create a breakthrough in addressing the souring bilateral ties.
Regarding the handling of the historic and economic disputes between the two countries, Seoul has been urging Tokyo to engage in negotiations while Japan has been insisting that South Korea should abide by international law.
During a parliamentary speech in Japan, Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pressured the South to give concessions and set "conditions" for Japan over the ending of the ongoing controversy, saying South Korea should abide by international law to create a breakthrough toward the restoration of healthy Korea-Japan relations like in the past.
Lee is widely considered to be the right person for the role of Seoul's de facto envoy to Tokyo as he has an extensive network in Japan with experience visiting foreign countries on behalf of Moon.
If the Korean PM attends the ceremony, it's likely he will meet Japanese politicians during his stay and discuss ways to patch up the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), a symbol of the trilateral military cooperation between South Korea, Japan and the United States, which will expire on Nov. 23. It has been one of the most contentious diplomatic and security issues in the region, according to the sources.
Some politicians from both South Korea and Japan have been discussing ways to lift the trade restrictions against each other and restorethe military agreement at the same time to tackle the current diplomatic difficulties between the two.