Japan Apology Needed To Solve Wartime Labor Issue: S Korean Presidential Candidate

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The presidential candidate of South Korea's ruling Democratic Party says that a solution to wartime labor compensation issues can be found if Japan makes a "sincere apology," but did not offer a concrete plan to solve the issues that have aggravated bilateral relations.

At a news conference with foreign media in Seoul, Lee Jae Myung also disputed media reports that paint him as a hard-liner due to his past remarks, saying they are based on misunderstanding and that he respects Japan as a country.

"I'd like to say that I love Japanese people because I had very heartwarming experiences during my past visits to Japan," the former governor of Gyeonggi Province said.

Lee added that if elected, he would seek a "path that would help each other" because South Korea and Japan are "geographically close and in an interdependent relationship."

In September, a South Korean district court ordered a local asset of Japanese manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd to be sold so plaintiffs who have won damages from the company over forced wartime labor can be compensated. But Tokyo strongly opposes the sale.

Lee said that given the separation of powers between different branches of government, it is "impossible" for the executive to tell the judiciary not to take compulsory action.

But he argued that a solution can be found if opposing sides meet halfway, because victims do not want money but rather hope to see the Japanese side acknowledge damage and apologize.

Japan-South Korea relations have sunk to their lowest point in decades following South Korean Supreme Court rulings in 2018 that ordered Mitsubishi Heavy and another Japanese company to compensate groups of Koreans for forced labor during its 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

Tokyo takes the position that all South Korean claims stemming from its 35-year rule were settled under a 1965 bilateral agreement under which it provided grants and loans to Seoul.

Lee also said Thursday that he intends to advance economic exchanges between the two countries by separating them from historical and territorial issues between them.

While he responded positively to greater cooperation with Japan on the security front, the candidate remained cautious toward the idea of a three-way "military alliance" among the United States, South Korea and Japan.

Lee said worries remain because it appears as if Japan has not accepted or sincerely reflected on its history.

On North Korea's nuclear weapons program, the candidate said denuclearization is the "overriding principle" given the risk the Korean people might be "annihilated."

In the March presidential election, Lee is expected to face the main opposition People Power Party nominee, former Prosecutor General Yoon Suk Yeol. The winner will take over from President Moon Jae In, who ends his single five-year term in May.



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