During a meeting of experts on international relations, the South Korean Presidential Office, the Blue House, expressed its appreciation for Japan’s “strategic importance,” according to a South Korean diplomatic source.
In seeking to restart dialogue with North Korea and improve North-South relations, President Moon Jae-in seems to have reached the conclusion that a stable bilateral relation with Japan has its merits. When National Intelligence Service Director Park Jie-won visited Japan, he reportedly proposed a quadrilateral meeting between Japan, the U.S., South Korea and North Korea during the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.
“With less than two years left in his term, President Moon lacks a legacy,” a conservative member of the South Korean Diet said in analyzing Seoul’s move. “Moon wants to concentrate on improving North-South relations. Tangled relations with Japan are an unnecessary burden.”
Furthermore, China is urging South Korea to engage in earnest dialogue with Japan. According to a South Korean diplomatic source, China is concerned that Japan’s export controls on South Korea-bound shipments may negatively affect the supply of semiconductors to China. Since last year, China has been urging the South Korean government to resolve differences with Japan and has offered to mediate.
Japan-South Korea relations are unlikely to improve, however, without a solution to the issue of wartime labor. “Despite ongoing diplomatic talks, big differences remain between the two countries over legal issues and an acceptable solution for the victims,” says Yang Gi-ho, a professor at Sungkonghoe University who studies Japan-South Korea relations. “Unless the wartime labor issue is resolved, the Moon administration won’t be able to use the bilateral relationship with Japan as a lever to achieve a better relationship with the North.