Moon, Kishida agree to accelerate diplomatic consultations to resolve forced labor row

October 15, 2021

President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida agreed Friday to accelerate diplomatic consultations between the two countries to resolve a protracted row over wartime forced labor, the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said.

The two leaders reached the agreement during their first phone call since Kishida took office last week, as they shared a consensus on the need for developing relations between the two countries in a future-oriented manner, according to a statement from Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Park Kyung-mee.

Relations between South Korea and Japan have been stuck in the force labor row for years since Japan imposed export curbs against the South in 2019 in retaliation against South Korean Supreme Court rulings that Japanese firms should pay compensation to forced labor victims.

Japan has claimed all reparation issues stemming from its 1910-45 colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula were settled under a 1965 treaty that normalized relations between the two countries, and urged the South to come up with acceptable solutions.

“There are differences in legal interpretations of” the 1965 agreement, Moon was quoted as telling Kishida. “I believe it would be desirable to pursue a diplomatic solution between the two countries and hope to accelerate consultations and communication between diplomatic authorities.”

Kishida explained Japan’s position and agreed to accelerate diplomatic discussions, the statement said.

Moon also called for Kishida to find a solution for the sexual enslavement of Korean women by Japan’s army during World War II.

According to historians, up to 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, were coerced into sexual servitude in front-line Japanese brothels during World War II, when the Korean Peninsula was a Japanese colony.

Moon told Kishida time is running short for the two nations to resolve the wartime sexual slavery issue, saying only 13 registered survivors of Korean victims of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery are alive in Korea.

Moon and Kishida vowed to cooperate on dealing with North Korea, according to the statement.

During the roughly 30-minute phone talks, Moon told Kishida the two nations need to bolster cooperation in a post COVID-19 pandemic era.

In recent months, Seoul has been pushing to improve bilateral relations at a time when the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has been seeking to reinforce a regional network of democratic alliances and partnerships to counter China’s growing assertiveness.