By Hyonhee Shin
SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Wednesday he is open to holding a summit with Japan during the G20 meeting this week but the decision rests with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, throwing the ball back to Tokyo amid strains over historical issues.
In written answers to questions posed by a group of visiting senior foreign media editors, Moon said historical issues should not be “exploited for domestic political gain.”
Bilateral relations have been frosty since a series of rulings by South Korean courts ordered Japanese firms to compensate their former labourers for their forced work during World War Two.
Last week, Tokyo rejected Seoul’s proposal to create a joint fund with contributions from companies of both countries to compensate the victims as out of hand.
Japan sees the claims as settled in a 1965 treaty that normalised ties. Its officials have warned there may be no summit between Moon and Abe during the G20 meeting in the Japanese city of Osaka unless South Korea presents a solution to the issue.
A senior South Korean presidential official told reporters on Tuesday that Moon and Abe won’t meet in Osaka as there was no response from Tokyo, though he did not rule out the possibility of an impromptu encounter.
Moon said the joint fund idea a “viable solution” that will help foster reconciliation between the firms and the victims, while moving the diplomatic ties “one step forward.”
“For my part, the door is always open for dialogue between our two leaders in order to advance Korea-Japan relations,” Moon said.
“Whether we can take advantage of the opportunity presented by the G20 summit depends on Japan.”
South Korea and Japan share a bitter history that includes the 1910-45 Japanese colonisation of the Korean peninsula and the use of comfort women, Japan’s euphemism for girls and women, many of them Korean, forced to work in its wartime brothels.
The rows over wartime history have long been a stumbling block for relations between the neighbours, sparking concern that the dispute could impact joint efforts to rein in North Korea’s nuclear programme.
The questions for the written interview were provided by Reuters, AP, AFP, Yonhap, Kyodo, Xinhua and Tass ahead of a symposium on the Korea peace process hosted by Yonhap in Seoul on Thursday.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Michael Perry)