Analyst: South Korea, Japan relations to may not change under Suga

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Sept. 14 (UPI) — Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga is unlikely to change course on Japan’s relationship with South Korea because of a wide range of political and economic disagreements, an analyst said following Suga’s election as leader of the Liberal Democratic Party.

Tongfi Kim, assistant professor of international affairs at Vesalius College in Brussels, said Monday there are no easy solutions to the disputes between South Korea and Japan, which began with a South Korean Supreme Court order that Japanese companies compensate victims of forced wartime labor.

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Kim says ties between Seoul and Tokyo are at an all-time low. In South Korean polls, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was found to be “extremely unpopular” with a rating that was below other world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to the analyst. Suga has said he would follow in Abe’s footsteps.

Suga, who is almost inevitably to be named prime minister by his party this week, also has very little foreign policy experience. Suga has said he would conduct affairs upon the foundation of the U.S.-Japan alliance, but it may be unlikely improvements could be made immediately with Seoul, South Korean newspaper Seoul Shinmun reported Monday.

At the LDP election on Monday, held at a hotel in Tokyo, Suga won 377 votes or 70%, followed by former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida at 89 votes and ex-Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba at 68, according to Kyodo News.

Suga recently said he would meet Kim Jong Un without preconditions, but he has kept a relatively low diplomatic profile. Suga did meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in May 2019 to discuss North Korea-related issues.

Suga is expected to serve what is left of Abe’s term through September 2021, but could stay for a longer term if he decides to run again, according to Seoul Shinmun’s Tokyo correspondent.