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Japanese PM calls S. Korea 'most important neighbor' during policy speech Updated: 2020-01-21 07:03:42 KST

In his policy speech Monday to the National Diet, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe referred to South Korea as his country's most important neighbor.

"Essentially, South Korea is the most important neighbor with which Japan shares basic values and strategic interests."

That's in contrast to his policy speech in January last year, which left out any mention of Tokyo's ties with Seoul, only to say that Japan will work with the U.S., South Korea and the international community on North Korea.
There have since been efforts to build bridges such as Seoul's decision to conditionally maintain their joint military intel-sharing pact, while Japan partially eased its export restrictions on South Korea.
The leaders of the two countries also held a summit last December where they agreed on the need for bilateral talks, and not leave their disputes unaddressed.

But during Monday's speech, Abe also made clear that Tokyo won't go easy in its long-running row with Seoul over compensation for wartime forced labor.
Japan claims that matters of reparation were settled by a 1965 treaty that normalized ties between the two.

"I sincerely hope South Korea keeps the promises made between the two countries and works towards building future-oriented relations."

Some experts say, despite the divide over history, the change in tone creates at least a chance for progress.

"Prime Minister Abe has not used the term 'strategic interest' since 2016 so we can say the mood has definitely improved and that he is trying to foster cooperative ties again. But there's still no solution to their bilateral dispute over history. With neither Seoul nor Tokyo willing to compromise, they're walking on thin ice. But there's no doubt this change in tone indicates that they'll be able to take things in a future-oriented direction."

On North Korea, the Japanese leader said he wants to work toward the normalization of bilateral ties by settling their unfortunate past.

"Based on the Japan-Korea Pyeongyang Declaration, we will resolve various issues with North Korea, settle the unfortunate past and aim for the normalization of diplomatic relations."

He reiterated his determination to deal with North Korea's kidnapping of Japanese nationals decades ago still unresolved and to sit down with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un without any preconditions.
Kim Min-ji, Arirang News.
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