The first phone call between President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reaffirmed that South Korea and Japan are on diverging paths when it comes to historical issues casting a cloud over whether the neighbors can mend their strained ties.
Moon stressed the need to find a diplomatic resolution to Japan's wartime use of forced labor, while on the sex slavery issue he said it's important to reach a deal that the victims can accept, without impeding diplomatic relations.
Kishida said that Japan wants an "appropriate" response from South Korea regarding the wartime disputes.
The two neighbors have long been at odds over historical issues, with relations worsening after a South Korean court ordered for assets seized from Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to be sold off to pay compensation for two victims of forced labor.
Tokyo argues that the matter was settled under a 1965 treaty that normalized ties between the countries.
During the phone talks, Moon said there are differences in the legal interpretation of the treaty, although the leaders agreed to make efforts to accelerate diplomatic consultations on the issue.
Regarding North Korea Moon and Kishida agreed on trilateral cooperation with the U.S. to deal with the security situation.
Moon also highlighted the need to swiftly resume dialogue with Pyeongyang for peace and denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.
The South Korean leader added he highly values Kishida's will to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un without any preconditions.
In response, Kishida was quoted as saying that he looks forward to the swift resumption of talks while stressing that it's also important that UN Security Council resolutions are implemented.
Friday's talks which lasted about 30 minutes came 11 days after Kishida took office on October fourth.
Kishida has held phone talks with leaders of the U.S., Australia, India as well as with the UK, China, and Russia.
"The Moon administration only has seven months left, so Japan would rather discuss improving relations with the new government. The Kishida cabinet also needs to prepare for the general elections, so Seoul-Tokyo relations isn't a popular topic at the moment. Fundamentally, the issue of selling corporate assets is like crossing Japan's 'red line.' But, the Moon administration can't go against the court ruling either. It will be hard to find a turnaround within the next seven months, but it will be good enough if the two countries can manage the situation so that ties don't worsen."
There was speculation that the leaders could meet in person on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Rome later this month, however, Kishida will not be attending due to Japan's general elections scheduled for October 31st.
Kim Min-ji, Arirang News.