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INTERNATIONAL > East Asia & Pacific

ROK premier calls for mutual consideration through acknowledging differences between two nations

  • October 18, 2019
  • , Asahi , p. 11
  • JMH Translation

By Takeshi Kamiya


SEOUL – South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon (66 years old) gave an exclusive interview to the Asahi Shimbun. Lee, who is highly trusted by President Moon Jae-in, is a former journalist who used to work in Tokyo as a correspondent and is known as one of the leading experts on Japan affairs in the Moon administration. In public opinion surveys, his name comes up as a top candidate to run in the next presidential election. In the interview, he expressed hope that his visit to Japan will create momentum for realizing a Japan-ROK summit.


Lee worked as a Tokyo correspondent of a South Korean newspaper for about three years from 1990 and lived in a condominium in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district.


In the interview, he expressed condolences for the damage caused by Typhoon Hagibis. “My heart aches. I would like to offer my sympathy to the people of Japan as a person from a neighboring country. The people of South Korea feel the same way.”


When the Emperor Emeritus was enthroned in 1990, Lee covered the ceremony as a correspondent. “As I will be attending the ceremony as the prime minister of South Korea, I feel a deep and special bond with Japan. I would like to congratulate the people of Japan on this special occasion and convey the wishes of the people of South Korea for the happiness of all the people in Japan.”


He also reminisced about his days in Japan as a correspondent. One day in late autumn, he went to a restaurant where he was a regular customer. He ordered grilled eggplant, but the owner politely explained that it was not the best season for eggplant.


“She was so considerate,” he recalled. “We have eggplants in South Korea as well. In fact, our two countries have many things in common. But we are different as well. It is important to understand our differences and give consideration to them. For example, we can avoid using words that may upset each other.”


Lee also discussed the issues facing the two countries:


Asahi: Will you deliver a letter from President Moon to Prime Minister Abe when you meet him?


Lee: On Oct.14, President Moon asked me,  “What if I write Prime Minister Abe a letter?” I recommended he do so.


I will listen carefully to Prime Minister Abe and other Japanese leaders and sincerely convey my view along with President Moon’s.


Asahi: The Japanese government upholds the position of not accepting [South Korea’s proposal] if the South Korean government does not address the court ruling seeking compensation payment for former requisitioned workers.


Lee: My understanding is that it is not impossible for Japan and South Korea to go back to the situation before (Japan tightened controls on South Korean-bound shipments in) July through dialogue.


Asahi: In South Korea, Japanese products are still being boycotted and some grassroots exchanges have been canceled.


Lee: Once the governments of the two nations improve their bilateral ties and the social climate changes, the factors that are obstructing people-to-people exchanges will be eliminated.

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