SEOUL: South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed on Friday to improve frayed ties between the US allies, both of them threatened by nuclear-armed North Korea,
Abe had previously hinted he might skip Friday’s opening ceremony for the South’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics as the two nations continue to lock horns over the emotional issue of former wartime sex slaves.
The issue of women forced into sexual slavery for Japanese troops during World War II has marred relations between the neighbours for decades.
Park Geun-Hye, Moon’s ousted predecessor, struck a deal in 2013 with Tokyo under which Seoul promised not to raise the issue again and Japan paid 1 billion yen ($8.9 million) to a foundation dedicated to supporting the victims.
The agreement, in which Tokyo fell short of taking legal responsibility, angered some victims and after taking office Moon condemned the deal as a “wrongful” solution and urged Japan to make a “heartfelt apology”.
In a meeting ahead of the Olympics opening ceremony—the third between the two heads of state—Moon expressed a desire to improve ties but stressed a need to “confront the history”.
“Like I’ve said many times, I am hoping... to seek future-oriented bilateral cooperation by joining wisdom and strength with you while we confront the history,” Moon said.
Abe agreed on the importance of building a “forward-looking relationship” but stressed that “a promise” made between the nations should be respected as a “cornerstone of the bilateral relationship.”
He also voiced concerns over the North’s nuclear threats but warned that “dialogue for the sake of dialogue is meaningless”, Abe’s office said.
Many South Koreans remain bitter about abuses under Japan’s ruthless 1910-45 colonial rule—including the issue of the wartime sex slaves, also known as “comfort women.”
Most Japanese feel they have atoned enough for the country’s wartime aggression, including the comfort women issue, after numerous apologies and statements on the war.
However, Washington will soon unveil its “toughest sanctions ever” on North Korea, US Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday, adding that the Pyongyang regime would not be allowed to “hijack” the upcoming Olympics, reports AFP.
Speaking in Japan before attending the opening ceremony of the Winter Games in South Korea, Pence pledged that Washington would “intensify its maximum pressure campaign” on the North, working with Tokyo.
“I’m announcing today that the United States will soon unveil the toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever,” he said, without giving further details..