South Korea calls Japan ‘closest neighbor’ amid tensions

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Jan. 14 (UPI) — South Korean President Moon Jae-in stressed the importance of strong ties with Japan during a rare meeting with Tokyo’s top diplomatic envoy to Seoul.

Moon, who has not opposed compensation for Korean victims of colonial rule despite Japanese complaints, said Thursday during the meeting with Japanese Ambassador Koji Tomita that the two sides are the “closest neighbors for peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia and the world,” local newspaper Herald Business reported.

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During the 30-minute meeting with Tomita, who will soon assume Japan’s top diplomatic post in Washington, Moon also called for “dialogue, exchange and cooperation,” without mentioning recent points of disagreement.

Last week, the Seoul Central District Court ordered the Japanese government to pay damages of about $90,000 each to 12 former South Korean “comfort women” forced to serve in Japanese wartime brothels.

Activists say the women, many of them teenagers at the time, were tricked into working in hazardous conditions and were subjected beatings and rapes. Some right-wing Japanese politicians, who represent the ruling party in Tokyo, have said the women were prostitutes, a claim that has angered South Koreans.

Moon also met with South Korean politician Kang Chang-il to present the new South Korean ambassador to Japan with a letter of credentials, according to Newsis on Thursday.

The president told Kang the two countries would need to develop relations in a “future-oriented manner,” and to seek solutions.

Efforts toward dialogue for “future-oriented development” needs to be separated from “problems that arise from time to time,” Moon said.

Kang, the former head of the Korea-Japan Parliamentarians’ Union that builds friendly ties between lawmakers, said he will “do his best to make dialogue possible” between the two democracies.

Tomita leaves his post after one year and two months in office. Talks between the two countries have stalled amid the coronavirus pandemic, border restrictions, and the resignation of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last year.