Although the general consensus is that the relations between South Korea and Japan will continue to be challenging under the leadership of Yoshihide Suga, some believe that there is a glimpse of hope. In order to improve the bilateral relations, the role of pro-Japanese and pro-Korean officials is crucial.
It is said that ruling Democratic Party of Korea leader Lee Nak-yon has a trustful personal relationship with Prime Minister Suga. According to sources from foreign affairs, Lee maintains a close relationship with many Japanese officials, especially those who are close to Prime Minister Suga, which can facilitate smooth communication. It is said that Lee and Suga met personally and agreed to improve the relations between Seoul and Tokyo with a sense of responsibility when Lee attended Naruhito’s enthronement ceremony on behalf of the government as prime minister in October last year.
It is known that former Presidential Secretary Lee Byung-ki also has a special relationship with Suga. He reportedly met Suga more than once a month in 2013 and 2014 when he was the South Korean ambassador to Japan. A Japanese senior official said that Lee and Suga were instrumental in making the South Korea-Japan comfort women agreement happen. It is also said that Suga wrote to Lee during Lee’s two-year imprisonment.
Among pro-Korean Japanese officials is Toshihiro Nikai, who is considered to be second only to the leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. He has served as a buffer when the anti-Korean sentiment grew intense in Japan. In September last year when the relations between South Korea and Japan were the worst due to trade restrictions on South Korea, Nikai said Japan should reach out first where it can during an interview. He is also the chairman of the Association of Namibian Travel Agents and visited South Korea with 360 Japanese business people including travel agency CEOs in June 2017. He planned a visit with 1,200 business people this year, but the plan has been postponed due to COVID-19.
Takeo Kawamura of the Korean and Japanese lawmaker association is also a well-known pro-Korean politician. He has briefed former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on South Korea-related issues. He will soon brief Suga on the relations between Seoul and Tokyo. Seeing “the Moon Hee-sang bill,” which suggests raising funds from the South Korean and Japanese public and businesses to compensate victims of forced labor, as a possible solution to the issue, he has been working behind the scenes to pass the bill.
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