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Japan's Abe strikes conciliatory note on S.Korea, row may be easing

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    Reuters

Tokyo   /   Mon, January 20, 2020   /   01:47 pm
Japan's Abe strikes conciliatory note on S.Korea, row may be easing This file photo taken on July 23, 2019 shows South Korean protestors cutting a banner with a picture of Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a rally denouncing Japan for its recent trade restrictions against Seoul over wartime slavery disputes, near the Japanese embassy in Seoul. A visceral trade row between Japan and South Korea risks damaging both countries' national interests as their leaders seek to bolster domestic political positions, analysts say. (AFP/Jung Yeon-je)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Monday that South Korea was its "most important neighbor" and that the two shared basic values, taking a conciliatory tone towards the country that has been locked in a bitter row with Tokyo for over a year.

The comment comes after South Korean President Moon Jae-in last week proposed the two countries work together to resolve the issue of wartime forced laborers, and called Japan "our closest neighbor."

It also follows some fence-mending steps in recent months, including Seoul's reversal of its decision to scrap an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, and Tokyo's partial easing of curbs on the export of high-tech materials to South Korea.

"Under an increasingly severe security environment in Northeast Asia, diplomacy with neighboring countries is extremely important," Abe told parliament in his policy speech.

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

In a parliamentary speech in October, Abe simply referred to South Korea as an "important neighbor."

But Abe and Moon met in China in December and stressed the need to improve ties, officials from both sides said.

Also, Moon told a news conference last week South Korea would actively cooperate for the success of this year's Olympic Games in Japan, and that he hoped the sporting event would provide a good opportunity to fundamentally improve ties.

Relations between Japan and South Korea, two of the United States' major Asian allies, plunged to their lowest in decades after South Korea's top court ordered Japanese firms in 2018 to compensate some wartime forced laborers.

Japan says the matter was settled by a 1965 treaty that normalized bilateral relations following Japan's 1910-45 occupation of the Korean peninsula.

"I sincerely hope South Korea honors the commitments between the two counties and works towards building future-oriented relations," Abe said in his Monday speech, reiterating that the onus is on Seoul to put ties back on an even keel.