|A statue symbolizing victims of the Japanese imperial military's sexual slavery before and during World War II, is seen during the 1,509th weekly rally to call for an official apology from the government in Tokyo, in front of former site of the Japan's embassy in Seoul, Wednesday. Yonhap|
Japan to pick new premier later this month; expectations linger over new leader's role in ties with Korea
By Jung Da-min
Korea and Japan have once again found that they remain "parallel" over historical issues during senior-level talks held Thursday. With Japan scheduled to pick a new prime minister Sept. 29, questions remain over whether the new leader can resolve the diplomatic disputes between Seoul and Tokyo.
During a meeting between Lee Sang-ryol, the foreign ministry's director general for Asian and Pacific affairs, and his Japanese counterpart Takehiro Funakoshi, the two discussed thorny historical issues including wartime forced labor and sexual slavery under Japanese colonial rule on the peninsula, along with other items related to security and economic cooperation. The talks were the first in three months.
However, Lee and Funakoshi reaffirmed the stance of each government on the historical issues. Seoul is demanding Tokyo's apology and compensation for surviving victims of forced labor and sexual slavery, while the latter is claiming that the issues were settled through the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between the two countries.
Many Korean victims of forced labor and sexual slavery have claimed that their voices were not reflected in previous agreements between the governments and thus they lack legitimacy.
Diplomatic experts said the conflicts between the neighboring countries will not be resolved in the near future, especially under the current governments of President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, but the two might be able to find a breakthrough after both Korea and Japan select their new leaders.
In Korea, the next presidential election is slated for March next year; while in Japan, following Suga's announcement earlier this month that he would not run for re-election as party leader this month, the next leader of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), who will be the next prime minister, will be selected on Sept. 29, about a month before Suga's tenure ends, Oct. 24.
Among strong candidates for the presidency of Korea are Gyeonggi Provincial Governor Lee Jae-myung, and former leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) Lee Nak-yon, both members of the party, and former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl and Rep. Hong Joon-pyo, who belong to the main opposition People Power Party (PPP). In Japan, Regulatory Reform and Vaccine Minister Taro Kono has been topping recent polls for the next LDP leader, among other candidates including former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida.
|Taro Kono, Japan's regulatory reform and vaccine minister and a prime minister candidate of the country's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, delivers a campaign speech during online election campaigning in Tokyo, Friday. AP-Yonhap|
Park Cheol-hee, a Japanese politics professor at Seoul National University's Graduate School of International Studies, said it was almost impossible to break the hardline view of Korea in Japan under Suga as he was too strongly tied with former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe whose support base was based among the country's right wing groups.
"However, if a new prime minister of Japan is elected, there will be some hope for a normalization of Korea-Japan relations as well as a renewed diplomatic atmosphere," Park said. "But at the same time, we should not expect major changes to automatically happen. What we can expect is that the current Korea-Japan relations are not likely to further worsen after the leadership change."