Yoshimasa Hayashi (left), Japan`s new foreign minister, arrives at the prime minister`s office in Tokyo on Wednesday. (AFP-Yonhap)
Japan’s newly appointed Foreign Minister on Thursday expressed willingness to step up dialogue with South Korea to improve their strained ties, but urged Seoul to take appropriate action to resolve the historical issues at the center of their feud.
Veteran lawmaker Yoshimasa Hayashi was named the country’s top diplomat the previous day, as Fumio Kishida was formally inaugurated as Japan’s new prime minister. Hayashi replaced Toshimitsu Motegi, who now occupies the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s No. 2 post of secretary-general.
At his first press conference as top envoy, Hayashi described South Korea as Japan’s “important neighboring country,” and said the soured bilateral ties should not be left as they are now.
“After recovering South Korea-Japan ties to healthy relations, (I) hope to accelerate consultations and dialogue between diplomatic channels to cooperate in various areas,” Hayashi said.
The minister also underscored trilateral ties among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo as essential in tackling North Korea as well as for regional stability.
Hayashi, however, demanded appropriate actions by Seoul to resolve feuds stemming from their shared wartime history, including issues of forced labor and sexual slavery, reiterating Tokyo’s unchanged stance.
“I will strongly urge (South Korea) to come up with solution that Japan can accept at the earliest,” he said, repeating Kishida’s earlier remarks.
Hayashi takes office at a time when the two neighbors are mired in a protracted row over territorial and historical disputes stemming from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
Their ties deteriorated further in 2018, when South Korea’s Supreme Court ruled that Japanese firms must compensate a group of South Korean victims who were forced to work in their factories during World War II. In 2019 in apparent retaliation, Japan slapped export controls on chemicals vital to the Korean semiconductor industry and has not entirely lifted them.
Japan continues to insist that all wartime issues were settled under a 1965 treaty that normalized bilateral relations. It also asserts that the 2015 agreement under the previous Korean administration resolved the matter of sexual slavery.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in is seeking to mend ties with Japan before he leaves office in May, but Tokyo has shown practically no interest, insisting that Seoul first must come up with ways to settle the feud.
With Kishida likely adhering to the hawkish policy on Seoul of his predecessors Yoshihide Suga and Shinzo Abe, there appears to be no immediate breakthrough for the frayed bilateral ties in sight.
South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong sent a congratulatory letter to Hayashi on Wednesday, according to a Foreign Ministry official. In the letter, Chung commended his new Japanese counterpart on his appointment and requested cooperation to development their bilateral ties.
By Ahn Sung-mi (firstname.lastname@example.org