South Korea and Japan made scant progress in discussions on resolving a long-standing wartime labor issue in a meeting of their senior diplomats, a South Korean official said Monday.
Seo Min Jung, director general of the South Korean Foreign Ministry's Asia and Pacific Affairs Bureau, discussed the issue of wartime labor compensation for Korean workers with her Japanese counterpart, Takehiro Funakoshi, in the meeting in Seoul, among other issues.
"As we discussed a broad range of topics, there was progress in some parts, but regarding the issues that many would be interested in, I would say we kind of fell short of making progress," a Foreign Ministry official told reporters after the meeting.
The latest meeting was held weeks after discussions between the two senior officials in Tokyo and phone talks between South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin and his Japanese counterpart, Yoshimasa Hayashi.
The series of meetings came after South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida vowed in November for an early settlement of wartime labor issues, which saw bilateral ties sink to their lowest point in decades.
Bilateral cooperation is becoming increasingly important in the face of threats from North Korea, which conducted missile tests at a record pace last year.
In 2018, South Korea's Supreme Court ordered Japanese firms to pay compensation to South Korean plaintiffs over forced labor during wartime. The Japanese government strongly opposed the ruling, saying that all the issues stemming from the colonial era were "completely and finally settled" under a bilateral treaty signed in 1965.
South Korean President Yoon's administration, which has shown a strong willingness to improve ties with Japan since he took office in May, has recently proposed creating a foundation based in South Korea to compensate the plaintiffs who won lawsuits against two Japanese firms -- Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and Nippon Steel Corp.
The proposal faced harsh criticism from the plaintiffs' side as the foundation would be established without an apology from Japan or the direct involvement of the accused companies.
The official also said that the opposition from the plaintiffs was delivered to the Japanese side and that further discussion will be needed to win a "sincere response" from Japan.
"The main point of a sincere response is an apology and contribution" from the companies, the official said, adding that there is still a gap in opinions between the two countries over the issue.
Japan plans to make clear that it will stand by a previous apology to its neighbors over past aggressions as part of efforts to improve its ties with South Korea if Seoul finalizes a solution to the wartime labor issue, a Japanese government source said earlier.
Tokyo is considering showing its remorse based on past statements, including one in 1995 by then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, who said, Japan "caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries" through its colonial rule and aggression, stating his "feelings of deep remorse" and "heartfelt apology."
Japan to uphold apology if South Korea settles wartime labor issue
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