Blue House urges Tokyo not to exploit potential Moon-Suga summit for domestic politics

Posted on : 2021-07-12 17:22 KST Modified on : 2021-07-12 17:22 KST
A Blue House official said the “attitude from Tokyo going forward is going to be key”
Then-Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe leads South Korean President Moon Jae-in to their seats for a bilateral summit in Chengdu, China, on Dec. 24, 2019. (Blue House photographers’ pool)
Then-Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe leads South Korean President Moon Jae-in to their seats for a bilateral summit in Chengdu, China, on Dec. 24, 2019. (Blue House photographers’ pool)

The South Korean government expressed deep dismay over reporters in the Japanese press citing Japanese government sources commenting on efforts to organize a Japan visit by President Moon Jae-in and a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

The plans for Moon’s visit – which Seoul had been favorably considering – now look to be on hold amid the South Korean government’s annoyance with Tokyo for leaking the content of the two sides’ discussions to exploit for domestic political ends.

“If you look at recent press reports, they give the impression that [Japan] is making political use out of the issues of [Moon] attending the Olympics and improving South Korea-Japan relations, so we’re watching developments closely,” a key Blue House official said Sunday.

“We’re willing to have a summit, but there would have been something that comes out of holding it,” the official said, adding that the “attitude from Tokyo going forward is going to be key.”

In an announcement texted to reporters the same afternoon, a South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) official wrote, “We express our deep dismay over the content of discussions between our two countries’ diplomatic authorities recently being leaked unilaterally to the press [in reports] citing Japanese government officials and representing the Japanese perspective and position.”

“It is difficult for intergovernmental discussions to continue under these circumstances, and we urge Japan to respond prudently,” the message added.

The same official said, “Recently, the two countries have been in close discussions through diplomatic channels on ways of using the Tokyo Olympics as an occasion for resolving pressing bilateral issues.”

“In particular, we considered the possibility of a South Korea-Japan summit being held, on the assumption that some momentum would be established in terms of resolving issues, and that the suitable formalities would be in place,” they continued — in a message that read as a warning that Moon may back out of his planned Japan visit, depending on how Tokyo behaves.

The position of the Blue House and MOFA is that there were political motivations behind the reports citing Japanese government sources as saying the bilateral summit would amount to a “brief and pro forma” affair.

The contention is that with Tokyo facing bleak prospects for a successful Olympics amid a resurgence in the COVID-19 pandemic, it is now going overboard by enlisting the local media in a political show to avoid giving the impression that Suga had backed off of his previously rigid stance and extended an invite to Moon.

On Sunday, the Nikkei newspaper reported that the plan was to “hold the summit when President Moon visits Japan for the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony” on July 23.

But it also reported that the Japanese government intended to “keep the summit brief if there are no prospects of a concrete plan” from the South Korean government on the issues of victims of sexual enslavement by the Japanese military and forced labor mobilization.

The Kyodo News agency previously quoted a Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs official saying Japan would “respond quietly to [Moon] as just one of the many heads of state attending the Olympics opening ceremony.”

“We don’t welcome President Moon’s visit so much that we would make concessions on historical issues,” the official also reportedly said.

Kyodo further quoted a source in the Japanese Prime Minister’s Official Residence as saying that Moon and other major figures from other countries would be able to meet with Suga “for around 15 minutes per person as a rule.”

Working-level MOFA officials remained circumspect.

“We still haven’t reached a decision,” a South Korean government official said Sunday on whether Moon would be attending the Olympics.

“But [the South Korean government is] unquestionably approaching this in a spirit of goodwill,” the official added.

But others within the administration signaled their continued distrust of Tokyo, in light of its unilateral decision to block a pull-aside summit between the two leaders during last month’s G7 summit. It remains possible that the plans for Moon’s visit could end up canceled if Seoul observes Tokyo’s response over the next couple of days and concludes that the right conditions aren’t yet in place.

If a South Korea-Japan bilateral summit does happen, it will be the first in 19 months since Moon met with then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a trilateral summit with China in December 2019. It would also be Moon’s first summit with Suga, who took office last September.

By Lee Wan, staff reporter

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