Japan has said it is South Korea's job to solve a trade dispute that is weakening ties between the two countries. Despite their differences, both parties agree that threats from North Korea demand regional unity.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says South Korea needs to take action to resolve a bilateral trade dispute that is significantly damaging relations between the two countries.
"South Korea should take responsibility and come up with measures to resolve the issue. I asked that South Korea initiate steps to restore ties between Japan and South Korea to a healthy state," Abe said in a news conference at a trilateral summit with China and South Korea in China on Tuesday.
Leaders from the three countries met in the Chinese city of Chengdu to discuss the stalled denuclearization talks between the US and North Korea.
Last year, South Korea's Supreme Court ordered Japanese firms to provide compensation to South Koreans who served as forced labor during Japan's colonial rule of the country from 1910 to 1945.
Japan has challenged the legality of the ruling, saying that the matter was solved in a treaty signed in 1965.
In retaliation,Tokyo has restricted exports of chemicals and materials used in manufacturing computer chips and smartphones, key industries for South Korea.
Though relations between the two neighbors are perennially uneasy, the current dispute is seen as one of the more serious in recent years.
Public steps towards a resolution
Speaking on the sidelines at the summit, Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in took the opportunity to discuss the tensions.
The leaders had a "candid" discussion and acknowledged the importance of dialogue, though "substantive differences" remain, Japanese Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Naoki Okada said.
A spokeswoman for President Moon said he and Abe agreed to meet more frequently and put aside conflicts over trade and history.
Moon echoed this sentiment in his comments, saying, "Japan and South Korea are historically and culturally the closest neighbors. We're not in a relationship that can set the two apart even when there's some discomfort for a while."
United over a common problem
Trade conflict aside, China, Japan, and South Korea reaffirmed their commitment to denuclearizing North Korea.
Pyongyang has been increasingly vocal in its demands for relief from US sanctions and has made unspecified threats if demands are not met by the year's end. North Korea also repeatedly stresses that denuclearization should apply to the "Korean Peninsula," begging the question whether Pyongyang considers offshore US weaponry covering the South and Japan to be a part of the equation.
China's Li said the three parties agreed that "dialogue and consultation is the only effective way to solve the issues of Korean Peninsula."
Abe criticized North Korea's recent missile launches for threatening regional security.
"For that purpose, it was confirmed that full implementation of U.N. Security Council resolutions remains important, and we need to maintain the momentum of the U.S.-North Korea process," he said.
kp/msh (AP, Reuters)