South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon’s planned visit to Japan to attend a ceremony proclaiming the enthronement of Japan’s Emperor Naruhito on Oct. 22 has apparently attracted positive responses in Japan. The upcoming trip of the prime minister, who has experience working as a correspondent in Japan and extensive network with Japanese government officials, could serve as a chance to find ways to mend ties between South Korea and Japan. Yet, experts remain cautious about whether Lee’s visit can lead to actual progress in the two countries’ bilateral relationship.
“Among President Moon Jae-in’s aides, Prime Minister Lee is the only person Japan can have expectations on,” a Japanese government official said Sunday. “Though belated, it is fortunate that he will visit Japan.” Tokyo has paid attention to Lee’s movement since the South Korean Supreme Court ordered Japanese firms in October 2018 to compensate South Korean victims for forced labor. When Lee said in mid-May that the executive branch should not intervene in judicial proceedings according to the principle of the separation of powers, some Japanese officials expressed great disappointment. Still, many Japanese government officials and politicians reportedly believe that Lee is the one whom they should talk to for finding a way out of the impasse in relations.
However, it remains uncertain whether the prime minister’s trip to Tokyo will bring the two countries closer to each other. “The only potential solution that Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been officially proposed by the South Korean government is that firms from both countries provide compensation for victims,” said a Japanese diplomatic source. “It is difficult for the Japanese government to take the proposal.” Another idea being floated involves the Seoul government in the compensation scenario, but it is reported that both governments have yet officially discussed the idea. “Japan will not accept any scenarios where Japanese firms should pay compensation,” the source added.