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President Moon to send letter to Abe via PM

President Moon Jae-in is expected to send a letter to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe through Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon as part of efforts to improve bilateral relations that have plummeted over wartime history and trade restrictions.

Lee will be making a three-day trip to Tokyo from Oct. 22 to attend Japanese Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement ceremony. He is likely to hold talks with Abe on Oct. 24, according to Japanese news reports citing government sources.

Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon (left) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. (Yonhap)
Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon (left) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. (Yonhap)

The prime minister said in an interview with Kyodo News that he is keen to play the role of a messenger between Moon and Abe, and that it will not take long to solve the ongoing bilateral disputes as both leaders appear to have a strong will to do so.

Bilateral ties soured as Japan tightened controls on exports of key industrial materials to South Korea since July, and removed Seoul from its list of preferred trading partners in August. The moves are widely seen as Tokyo’s retaliation against Korean court rulings last year that ordered Japanese companies to compensate Korean victims of wartime forced labor.

Lee said in an interview with Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun on Thursday that Moon was deeply concerned about Seoul’s relations with Tokyo, and that he thinks the issue of wartime forced labor shouldn’t be an obstacle between the two countries heading toward a future-oriented relationship.

Closed-door talks between the two sides are already underway, which could speed up with the support of Moon and Abe, he said.

The prime minister said he hopes the two countries can return to where they were before July (when Tokyo clamped export controls) through dialogue, and that his meeting with Abe next week could lead to summit talks between Moon and Abe within this year.

Moon’s letter to Abe is expected to discuss solutions to the issue of compensation for wartime forced labor, Japan’s export restrictions, the military information sharing pact with Tokyo that Seoul decided not to renew, and a bilateral summit.

Lee told Kyodo News that he will sincerely listen to Abe and other Japanese leaders, and do his best to explain the thoughts of Moon and himself.

He said that Moon suggested on Monday sending a letter to Abe, and he replied, “Yes, please write one.”

Lee is known to be Japan-friendly thanks to working in Tokyo as a correspondent for Dong-a Ilbo newspaper for three years from 1990, and leading a union of the two countries’ lawmakers.

By Kim So-hyun (