TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is unlikely to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in during the United Nations General Assembly in September, the Sankei newspaper said on Monday, the latest sign of strained ties between the U.S. allies.
Abe will not hold talks with Moon unless Seoul takes constructive steps over World War-Two era forced labour and other issues, the paper said.
He will also forgo meeting Moon at an October meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation gathering in November, the paper added.
The leaders did not meet during June’s Group of 20 summit in Japan’s western city of Osaka.
Separately, Korean Air Lines (003490.KS) said it would suspend flights between the South Korean city of Busan and Sapporo in northern Japan from Sept. 3 because of falling demand amid the worsening diplomatic dispute that has spurred boycotts of Japanese goods and services, from beer to travel.
Relations between the Asian neighbours are arguably at their lowest ebb since they normalised ties in 1965. A South Korean court ruled last year that Japanese companies had to pay compensation to South Koreans forced to work in Japanese factories during Japan’s occupation of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945.
Japan tightened restrictions on exports to South Korea of key high-tech materials in making memory chips and display panels, accusing its neighbour of inadequate management of sensitive items.
But the curbs were also seen as retaliation against last year’s ruling by the South Korean Supreme Court.
Japan says the court’s decisions violate international law because compensation was settled under the 1965 treaty.
In Tokyo’s latest effort to bolster its position on the issue, a Japanese foreign ministry official unveiled a document on Monday that describes exchanges between Japanese and South Korean negotiators in the run-up to the 1965 treaty.
The document has a South Korean negotiator say in a 1961 meeting that it is natural to demand compensation for psychological and physical pain arising from forced labour.
“The South Korean Supreme Court decision says such matters as wages were solved by the treaty, but that the right to claim for reparation for psychological damage is outside the realm of the treaty,” the official said.
“But, compensation for psychological and physical pain was clearly asked for during the negotiations (towards the conclusion of the treaty).”
At a briefing on Monday after returning from a U.S. trip, South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee said she told American officials that Japan’s moves set a very dangerous precedent for using trade measures as a tool to resolve political issues.
Adding to the export curbs, Japan is preparing for cabinet approval as early as Aug. 2 to drop South Korea from a so-called white list of countries with minimum trade restrictions, Japanese media have said.
South Korea has protested against the plan, saying it would undermine the neighbours’ decades-old economic and security cooperation and threaten free trade.
Reporting by Kaori Kaneko, Chris Gallagher and Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo, Hyunjoo Jin in Seoul; Writing by Malcolm Foster; Editing by Paul Tait and Frances Kerry