Olympics brings South Korea, Japan closer together
South Korea welcomes Japanese premier’s move to attend Winter Games, having already secured North Korea's participation
Seoul is celebrating another diplomatic boost ahead of next month's Winter Olympics, as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is set to attend the event in South Korea.
Just over two weeks ahead of PyeongChang 2018, Tokyo put aside an ongoing historical feud Wednesday to break speculation that Abe might boycott the Olympics. The Japanese Embassy in Seoul asked for talks on the matter, prompting a statement later in the day by the South's government.
"The government welcomes Japan's official notification of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's trip to South Korea," presidential office spokesman Park Soo-hyun told a press briefing, according to Yonhap News Agency.
Park added Seoul wishes to "closely cooperate with the Japanese government so Prime Minister Abe's South Korea trip will lead to the future-oriented development of the relationship between the two countries."
Abe's presence at the games will offer South Korean President Moon Jae-in hope that his proposed two-track approach to bilateral ties can be a success.
Since taking office last May, Moon has been critical of a 2015 Seoul-Tokyo deal to compensate now elderly South Korean women who were forced to serve Imperial Japan's military as sex slaves. He described the agreement as flawed because it failed to take the victims' views into consideration, but the South's leader also wants the two sides to maintain positive relations.
While Tokyo has expressed its displeasure with the current South Korean government's position on their "irreversible" deal, it would appear Abe is prepared to look beyond renewed demands for him to apologize sincerely to former so-called comfort women.
The Japanese prime minister's attendance at the Winter Olympics may additionally strengthen Seoul's desire for the Games to spur regional cooperation, especially given local efforts to support North Korea's participation despite Pyongyang's contentious nuclear weapon ambitions.