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S. Korea, Japan foster dialogue momentum amid historical dispute
Updated: 2019-12-30 22:18:27 KST

Hopes were high that the Christmas Eve summit between President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would provide much needed momentum for the two sides to patch up their brittle relationship.
Despite their differences over history and trade -- the two leaders agreed to meet more often and not leave the situation unaddressed.

"South Korea and Japan are the closest neighbors geographically, historically and culturally and are also important partners in terms of trade and people-to-people exchanges. Although there was some brief discomfort, the two sides can never be apart."
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"I also hope to develop the important Seoul-Tokyo relationship and exchange honest views."

It was a step in the right direction given that bilateral relations took a sharp turn for the worse this year.
Japan stripped South Korea of its preferential treatment in export procedures, on top of imposing tougher restrictions on the export of three high-tech materials.
Tokyo cited a breach of trust on security issues,. but Seoul saw it as retaliation for the compensation issue of Japan's wartime forced labor.
South Korea hit back by taking Japan off its own trade whitelist and decided to withdraw from a joint military-intelligence sharing pact known as GSOMIA.

But there were efforts along the way to build bridges.
South Korea's Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon visited Tokyo to attend the enthronement ceremony of the new Japanese emperor, while Moon and Abe had brief talks on the sidelines of the ASEAN meeting in Bangkok.
Such events, coupled with behind the scenes diplomacy bore fruit.
Six hours before GSOMIA was set to expire, South Korea decided to conditionally put off its decision to withdraw -- with Japan agreeing to resume talks over their trade dispute.
Since then, a round of talks have been held between the two sides, while Tokyo has relaxed export restrictions for one of the three materials it had put under tighter control.

It's a positive sign that the two sides have started to talk. But the trade issue will take some time to solve, and to put Seoul back on Tokyo's trade whitelist will require the approval of Japan's cabinet. That said, South Korea will also put GSOMIA back on the table."

But even if progress is made on that front, experts say the key will be whether they can find a fundamental solution to their historical dispute that's acceptable to both governments and the victims.
Kim Min-ji, Arirang News.
Reporter : kimmj@arirang.com