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Moon will meet with Abe at G-20

June 20,2019
Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said Wednesday that President Moon Jae-in will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Osaka, Japan, despite repeated Japanese media reports that were pessimistic about the prospects for a summit.

Lee made the remark as a part of his speech at a forum in Seoul hosted by the Kyunghyang Shinmun newspaper, where he said that an important development in the stalled denuclearization talks concerning North Korea is possible within the next few months.

“Concerned countries are trying to find a breakthrough,” said Lee. “Leaders of the countries are having summits one after another.”

Lee then said that a North Korea-China summit will take place in Pyongyang today and tomorrow.

“Next week, the G-20 summit will take place in Osaka, Japan,” Lee said. “On the sidelines, Korea-China, Korea-Japan and U.S.-China summits will take place one after another. And then a Korea-U.S. summit will take place in Seoul.”

While all the summit schedules Lee mentioned had been publicly announced, Korea and Japan have yet to officially confirm a Moon-Abe summit. The diplomatic row over compensating Korean workers forced to work by Japanese companies during World War II has barred Seoul and Tokyo from finalizing the schedule.

“Nothing has been decided on the Korea-Japan summit,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, spokesman of the Japanese government, on Wednesday. “We will make a proper decision in the future based on various circumstances.”

The Blue House and the Foreign Ministry of Korea have also maintained the official position that no final decision was made on the summit.

Moon’s last bilateral summit with Abe took place in September last year in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

A Japanese newspaper reported Wednesday that Abe is reluctant to meet Moon during the G-20 summit, scheduled for June 28 and 29. It was the latest in a series of reports by Japanese media that Abe has no intention to meet with Moon. The Sankei Shimbun reported that Abe made the decision in response to the Korean government’s silence toward Japan’s request to set up an arbitration panel to discuss issues concerning the victims of Japan’s wartime forced labor.

The Supreme Court of Korea ruled late last year that Japanese companies must compensate Koreans conscripted for labor during Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the country. Japan’s Foreign Ministry sent a request to the Korean Foreign Ministry on May 20 that the two countries should form an arbitration panel involving a third country within 30 days. The deadline for Seoul’s response expired on Tuesday.

According to the Sankei report, Abe is scheduled to have bilateral summits with about 15 leaders, including presidents of the United States, Russia and China. According to Japan’s Foreign Ministry, 37 leaders from the G-20 member countries and international organizations will attend the event.

Although Abe, as the host of the event, will not completely ignore Moon, their contact will be kept to a minimum, the newspaper said.

Tokyo maintains that the 1965 treaty normalizing bilateral relations with Seoul, which provided the Korean government with an economic cooperation fund, settled all compensation matters, and refused to accept the Korean court rulings.

The Korean plaintiffs started legal processes to seize the assets of the Japanese firms in Korea. Japan, in response, demanded a diplomatic consultation with Korea in January to resolve the dispute based on the Article 3 of the agreement. On May 20, it demanded that an arbitration panel be formed, also based on the agreement.

Korea has said the government has no right to intervene in a court ruling, and did not give a response to Japan’s request as of Tuesday. Clause 2 of Article 3 in the agreement says that any dispute that cannot be settled through diplomatic channels shall be submitted for decision to an arbitral commission of three arbitrators. The arbitrators are to be appointed by the two countries and a third party.

“We respect the Supreme Court ruling,” said Foreign Ministry Spokesman Kim In-chul on Tuesday. “We are carefully addressing the issue based on the need to substantially cure the pain and wounds of victims and create a future-oriented Korea-Japan relationship.”

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]