Yoshihide Suga, the incumbent chief cabinet secretary of Japan and the prospective successor to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has reiterated the message to stick to his hawkish stance on the issue over reparations of the forced laborers under Imperialist Japan.
In an interview with the Japanese daily Yomiuri Shimbun on Monday, Secretary Suga said he will make a thorough response to any breach of international law in regard with the conscription issue. “The basis of Japan-Korea relations lies in the claims settlement agreement reached in 1965,” said Mr. Suga in an interview with the Sankei Shimbun, adding that it is natural to stand by the agreement.
The Abe administration has consistently argued that the Korean Supreme Court’s ruling on forced labor was in violation of international law since October 2018. In fact, Secretary Suga has also repeatedly claimed that the ruling is in breach of international law as it runs afoul of the claims agreement and that Seoul must come up with a solution. Suga’s latest remarks reaffirm his will to cling to such stance once he becomes prime minister. Subsequently, improving relations between Seoul and Tokyo appears to be a bleak prospect.
The approvals for Mr. Suga are rising against this backdrop. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported Monday that in a survey which ran from Friday to Sunday, 46% of the respondents chose Suga as future prime minister among three candidates. The abrupt surge in Suga’s approval ratings reflects the public sentiment towards the Abe administration. The same survey found the approval rating of Abe’s cabinet standing at 52%, up 15 percentage points from 37% from last month. As much as 74% of the respondents positively evaluated Abe’s seven years and eight months in office.