In his policy speech at the start of the regular session of the Diet, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that Tokyo shares “fundamental values and strategic interests” with Seoul. But Abe added his wish for South Korea to keep the “promises between nations,” letting it be known that the issue of Korean forced laborers during Japan’s 1910-45 occupation of the Korean Peninsula will still be the biggest agenda to hash out between the two neighbors this year.
Calling South Korea the most important neighbor by nature sharing fundamental values and strategic interests with Japan, Abe said he sincerely expects Seoul to keep the promises and build future-oriented bilateral relations. In his policy speech last year, the Japanese prime minister did not make any mention about relations with Korea when the friction between the two nations peaked out with the Korean court’s compensation ruling on forced labor and the aggressive flight of Japanese patrol aircraft near South Korean territorial skies.
The policy speech sets the basic direction of the Japanese government’s policy drive. Experts say this year’s speech has doled out a significant credit for Seoul. The last time Mr. Abe used the expression “sharing fundamental values” in addressing Seoul through his policy speech was back in 2014, and “sharing strategic interests” was last heard in 2017. It is analyzed that the conditional extension of the General Security of Military Information Agreement, which was clinched at the end of last year, and the first summit meeting between Seoul and Tokyo in 15 months were at play.
The Japanese prime minister, however, urged Seoul to “keep the promises between nations” again, unilaterally demanding that Seoul resolve the issues of the ruling on forced labor victims. Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, who took the podium after Abe, weighed in, adding that he will make a strong request to Seoul to take the responsibility to offer a solution for the issue on “laborers from the old Korean Peninsula” (a term Japan uses to refer to the victims of forced labor under Japanese rule), the biggest task to tackle for the two nations.
Tokyo is counting on the bill proposed by South Korea’s National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang, the gist of which is to raise voluntary funds from the companies and peoples of both countries to offer them to the victims as compensation. Takeo Kawamura, the secretary-general of the Japan-Korea Parliamentarians' Union, visited Seoul on Thursday to have a meeting with Moon, and he called on South Korean lawmakers to pass the bill. A Japanese high-level official told the Dong-A Ilbo that once Korean companies chip in, Japanese companies will follow suit.