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Japan, South Korea need to mend ties, cooperate: PM Suga

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Yoshihide Suga speaks during a news conference following his confirmation as prime minister of Japan, in Tokyo, Japan, on September 16, 2020. (Photo by Reuters)

Japan’s new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says his country and South Korea need to mend their relations and cooperate on various issues, including North Korea.

Suga made the remark during a telephone conversation with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Thursday.

“I told President Moon that we cannot leave our current very difficult relations where they are now,” Suga told reporters after the phone call. “Cooperation between Japan and South Korea, as well as between Japan, the United States, and South Korea, is crucial to deal with North Korea and other issues.”

Japan would “continue to firmly seek appropriate action from South Korea,” he said, without elaborating.

The Japanese government said South Korea had asked for the telephone call. Last week, President Moon had also sent a letter to Suga, saying he was willing to sit down with the Japanese prime minister any time to discuss the improvement of bilateral relations.

Suga took over as Japan’s prime minister last week.

Relations between Japan and South Korea have been strained by a dispute over compensation for Koreans forced to work in Japan’s World War II-era mines and factories.

The dispute between the two Asian neighbors escalated in 2019 when Japan tightened export controls on materials vital for South Korean chip-makers. Tokyo, in response, dropped Seoul from a list of countries eligible for fast-track exports.

Moreover, South Korea announced in August last year that it would leave a military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan when it expires.

Japan has the world’s third-largest economy, and South Korea has the 11th. A trade war between the two could have wide-ranging implications.

The two countries are also consumed by fears of North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs. This is while Pyongyang has meant its military programs for defense against potential US aggression. The United States has substantial military presence on the Korean Peninsula aimed at North Korea.

President Moon showed a serious inclination toward rapprochement with the North when he started engaging North Korea diplomatically in 2018. But his efforts were largely neutered later as the US President Donald Trump administration refused to take any steps to advance diplomacy.

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