South Korean President Moon Jae In intended to convey to Japan's leader his plan to attend the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics next month but could not do so because talks between them did not happen on the fringes of the Group of Seven summit in Britain, a local newspaper reported Tuesday.
The absence of talks between Moon and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga during the weekend summit has prompted a war of words between the two neighbors, with Seoul reportedly claiming that Tokyo unilaterally canceled an agreed-on meeting, a claim dismissed by Japan as not factual.
The Hankyoreh said the president was seeking an opportunity to start improving bilateral ties that have worsened over wartime labor compensation and other issues through his appearance at the July 23 ceremony in the Japanese capital.
Moon and Suga just exchanged greetings while they were at the venue of the summit. They had not met in person since Suga became prime minister in September.
Later the president said in a Facebook post, "My first encounter with Prime Minister Suga was a precious chance that could have been a new start in the South Korea-Japan relationship, but I am sorry that it was not able to develop into a meeting."
Major South Korean newspapers ran front-page articles on Tuesday on the absence of a Suga-Moon meeting. The JoongAng Ilbo said in a report that both sides lost an opportunity for reconciliation, and that a "crisis" between the two countries is "intensifying."
Yonhap News Agency reported Monday that the two countries had agreed on a "pull-aside" meeting between their leaders but that Japan broke the tentative agreement.
The report said Japan did so because of a regular military exercise planned by South Korea for this week around a group of islets claimed by Tokyo in the Sea of Japan.
Japan's top government spokesman Katsunobu Kato quickly denied the report, saying "there is no such fact." The chief Cabinet secretary told a news conference that a meeting was not held due to scheduling issues.