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Abe could lift curbs on exports, says close aide

Nov 26,2019
A close aide of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who is a senior member of a Korean-Japanese parliamentary group recently told the JoongAng Ilbo in an exclusive interview that Abe could announce the retraction of Tokyo’s export restrictions on Seoul in late December if Korea’s parliament passes the so-called Moon Hee-sang plan to resolve the forced labor issue within that same month.

Takeo Kawamura, a senior member of the Japan-Korea Parliamentarians’ Union and a lawmaker in Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, told the JoongAng Ilbo’s Tokyo correspondent in an interview last Friday that Abe didn’t show a “bad” reaction to Moon’s idea when they talked about it two days earlier.

Kawamura said he visited Abe’s house last Wednesday for a short meeting that went on for about 40 minutes, in which various Japanese-Korean issues were discussed, such as Moon’s proposal, the forced labor issue and the bilateral General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia).

“He didn’t agree [to Moon’s plan], but [his reaction] wasn’t bad either,” Kawamura said. “I think [both countries agreed that Seoul would] suspend its decision to [terminate] Gsomia within that atmosphere.”

During a visit to Japan earlier this month, Moon, the speaker of Korea’s National Assembly, proposed that companies from Korea and Japan - as well as the people from both countries - could make monetary contributions to a fund to compensate the Korean victims of forced labor, including those that the Korean Supreme Court ruled in favor of to receive compensation from Japanese companies.

Moon introduced the proposal in a lecture at Waseda University in Tokyo.

Moon also proposed that 6 billion won ($5.1 million) left over from a now-dismantled fund to compensate victims of Korean sexual slavery in World War II should be included in the new fund for forced labor victims.

Moon has been expected to submit his proposal to the National Assembly for a vote soon, with the hope of getting it passed by the end of this year.

Tokyo has not given any official response to Moon’s proposal yet.

“It’s the only way to resolve” the forced labor issue, Kawamura said during the JoongAng Ilbo interview.

When asked what Abe thought about Moon’s idea, Kawamura cited him as saying, “It would be unreasonable to ask [Japan’s] large companies [to donate to the fund] because their general meeting of shareholders [will oppose the donations].”

In the same breath, Kawamura said the Japanese prime minister nodded when he told him that Moon’s proposal would be “significant” in the sense that the fund would be stipulated in Korean law.

Kawamura added that Japanese companies and people would donate to the fund if it were based on the premise that it serves bilateral ties and both countries’ economies. If the fund were based on the idea that contributors are paying Korean forced labor victims, then the Japanese would “criticize” it, he warned.

On Abe’s possible retraction of Japan’s export restrictions on Korea, Kawamura said that if the National Assembly passes the fund in December, then Abe could announce that the export restrictions will be curbed in a trilateral summit involving Korea, Japan and China that’s planned to be held in late December in Beijing.

BY SEO SEUNG-WOOK [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]