|South Korean President Moon Jae-in (left on screen) addresses counterparts at the 2nd Mekong - South Korea Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), on a live video conference held online due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, in Hanoi. AP-Yonhap|
By Do Je-hae
President Moon Jae-in will meet new Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga for the first time at a multilateral diplomatic setting during a video-linked Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)+3 summit on Saturday.
The ASEAN+3 summit gathers leaders from the 10 ASEAN members as well as those from Korea, Japan and China, for the purpose of advancing multi-dimensional cooperation between ASEAN and the three Asian neighbors, according to Cheong Wa Dae.
The ASEAN+3 summit, which will be the first time Moon and Suga take part in a diplomatic event together, comes amid strenuous efforts from the Seoul government this week to appease Tokyo to help ease bilateral tension over history and trade issues.
The need to improve strained bilateral ties has been particularly highlighted ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, which President Moon is eyeing as an occasion for the two Koreas, Japan and U.S. to discuss peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Seoul has been reaching out to Tokyo through a series of high-level visits to Japan. Earlier this week, National Intelligence Service chief Park Jie-won met the Japanese leader and reportedly delivered suggestions for a breakthrough in the bilateral impasse, including Olympic diplomacy and a new declaration by the leaders of the two countries which resembles the historic Kim-Obuchi declaration for historical reconciliation in the late 1990s.
Rep. Kim Jin-pyo of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, who chairs an association of Korea-Japan lawmakers, also visited Japan for talks with Suga Friday and with other high-level officials.
The series of visits are seen primarily as a way to persuade Suga to come to Seoul next month to participate in the annual Korea-Japan-China summit. Concerns have risen that the meeting could be canceled if Suga remains unrelenting on his previous remarks to boycott the summit unless Korea brings a resolution to the forced labor issue that is acceptable to Japan. Tokyo has insisted that the 2018 Supreme Court ruling that ordered Japanese firms to compensate Korean plaintiffs is a breach of international law, going against the 1965 Korea-Japan normalization treaty.
After his meeting with Suga, Park could not confirm whether Suga had changed his mind, but said prospects were looking up.
|Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (center, on screen) participates in the virtual 23rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-Japan summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, Nov.12. EPA-Yonhap|
Some experts say now is the time for the forced labor issue to be discussed at the highest level.
"It would make sense for Prime Minister Suga to accept President Moon's offer to discuss the slave labor issue at the highest level," Ramon Pacheco Pardo, associate professor in International Relations, Department of European & International Studies, King's College London, told The Korea Times. "Former colonizers increasingly have to confront their past, because it isn't possible to silence their victims, such as sex or slave workers, or their descendants."
The KF-VUB Korea Chair, Institute for European Studies, Vrije Universiteit Brussel also said that cooperation on global issues could help build trust between the two leaders despite the ongoing conflict over historical issues.
Pardo added, "One more thing that the Korean and Japanese leaders should do is concentrate on the many areas in which both countries share interests. Promoting multilateral trade, dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath and checking on China's rise even if not isolating it are examples of areas in which both countries can cooperate regardless of the slave labor dispute. This cooperation could help to build trust, paving the way for the resolution of this issue."
Following the ASEAN+3 summit, Moon will take part in the East Asia summit later Saturday with leaders from ASEAN as well as Australia, China, India, Japan, Russia, the U.S., and New Zealand.
On Sunday, Moon will take part in the signing ceremony for a mega free trade deal ― the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) ― combining the economies of 10 ASEAN countries with five others ― Korea, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
The ASEAN+3 summit is the third of five ASEAN-related summits being held from Thursday until Sunday. Moon, Suga and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will join discussions to enhance ways for cooperation, particularly in health and medical areas as well as the economy. In addition, Moon is also expected to underline the need for continued international cooperation for his peace process on the Korean Peninsula.
|South Korea's National Intelligence Service Director Park Jie-won is surrounded by journalists after meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga at the prime minister's office in Tokyo Tuesday, Nov. 10. AP-Yonhap|
"During the ASEAN+3 summit, President Moon will assess the cooperative projects suggested during the ASEAN+3 special summit on April 14 held virtually, and discuss ways to tackle the pandemic through health cooperation and revive the economy," a presidential aide told reporters. "Also, the President will explain our government's efforts for the situation on the Korean Peninsula and request the cooperation of participating countries."
A joint statement for economic and financial resilience will be adopted after the summit, according to the presidential office.
On Friday, Moon participated in the second Korea-Mekong summit, which was first held during the Korea-ASEAN special summit in Busan in November 2019 to promote exchanges between Korea and Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.