By Hyonhee Shin
SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in on Monday suggested high-level talks to resolve a deepening political and trade row with Japan during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Moon’s spokeswoman said.
The two leaders held an 11-minute discussion on the sidelines of a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Bangkok, the spokeswoman, Ko Min-jung, said in a statement.
The meeting comes as relations have plunged to their lowest in decades after South Korea’s top court last year ordered Japanese firms to compensate some wartime forced laborers.
“Both leaders reaffirmed the principle that bilateral issues should be resolved through dialogue,” Ko said, referring to working-level talks between the countries’ foreign ministries.
“President Moon offered higher-level talks if necessary, and Prime Minister Abe suggested seeking a resolution through all available means.”
The two leaders agreed that their ties were important and the dispute should be settled through dialogue, Japan’s NHK broadcaster reported.
Abe also expressed condolences over the death of Moon’s mother last week, according to NHK.
As the feud spilled over into trade and security issues, Moon and Abe have not held a summit for more than a year, though they shook hands at a Group of 20 meeting in Japan in June.
Moon sent Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon to Tokyo last month for Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement ceremony with a personal letter calling for efforts to mend ties.
But there has been little sign of progress. Abe reiterated to Moon that the issue of wartime forced labor was settled by a 1965 treaty that normalized relations following Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule, NHK said.
While wartime bitterness divides the neighbors, they are both U.S. allies and face threats from North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs.
South Korea has been urging Japan to lift trade measures it imposed this year, as ties deteriorated.
If Japan does so, South Korea says it could revoke a decision to end a pact on the sharing of military intelligence. The agreement expires later this month.
South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo told a parliamentary session the deal should be kept “if it helps with our security in any way” but the trade issues also needed to be resolved.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by William Mallard in Tokyo; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Robert Birsel)