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Leaders of S. Korea, Japan Meet in Bangkok Amid Frayed Ties over History, Trade

#Hot Issues of the Week l 2019-11-10



President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations(ASEAN) Plus Three summit, involving the leaders from the ASEAN, South Korea, China and Japan.

During their eleven-minute talk, Moon and Abe reaffirmed Seoul-Tokyo ties are important and that pending bilateral issues should be resolved through dialogue.

Presidential spokesperson Ko Min-jung said the leaders expressed hopes that the two sides will hammer out ways to make substantive progress in improving ties through official consultations between their foreign ministries.

Moon also proposed holding higher-level consultations. Abe responded by agreeing to explore a resolution through "every available means."

The brief encounter, which President Moon's office described as being "very friendly" yet "serious," comes 13 months after the two leaders last held official talks at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Bilateral relations have soured since Tokyo implemented export curbs against Seoul in July in an apparent protest over the South Korean top court rulings that ordered Japanese firms to compensate Korean victims of Japan's wartime forced labor.

Following Japan’s trade retaliation, South Korea decided not to renew the General Security of Military Information Agreement(GSOMIA), also involving the United States.

Moon and Abe's determination to mend ties will be put to the test as the intel-sharing pact, under which the two countries have shared key military intelligence regarding North Korean missile threats, expires in 19 days.

If Seoul and Tokyo come to a decision to extend GSOMIA, it will likely help pave the way for the two sides to resolve their trade and historical disputes.

Speaking at the ASEAN Plus Three summit following his meeting with Abe, Moon emphasized the importance of free trade.

"We need to protect free trade from head winds and bring contracting economies back to expansion. I hope that ASEAN+3 plays a central role in the enlarged cooperation. Finalizing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership(RCEP) agreement will not only contribute to free trade and expanded investment in the region, but also to investment in East Asia and mutual prosperity." 

Moon expressed concern that trade protectionism is growing again, adding that nations should redirect the world economy to a path of "expanded balance" from one of "diminished balance."

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