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Shinzo Abe endorses Japan-South Korea exchange despite tensions

By Elizabeth Shim
Shinzo Abe endorses Japan-South Korea exchange despite tensions
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe mentioned civic exchange with South Korea during a visit to Shimonoseki, Japan, on Wednesday. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 14 (UPI) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said people-to-people exchange between Japan and South Korea should continue despite trade tensions and a dispute over compensation for former comfort women and victims of forced wartime labor.

Abe, who has previously accused Seoul of "damaging trust" and violating North Korea sanctions, said political tensions should not override everyday interchange between the two U.S. allies, Sankei Shimbun reported Wednesday.

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The prime minister made the remark during a dinner in the city of Shimonoseki during Japan's Obon holidays.

When Shintaro Maeda, the mayor of Shimonoseki, spoke about a sibling city relationship with Busan, South Korea's second-largest city, Abe said he accepts any ongoing activities between the two countries.

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The issue of Japan-South Korea exchange is a "matter of civic exchange, so it can occur at the civic level," Abe said, according to the Sankei.

Abe's remarks come less than a week after South Korean President Moon Jae-in praised "mature civic relations" between the South Korean and Japanese peoples.

"Against the backdrop of a mature civic understanding that prevails between the two people of both countries, we engage in dialogue that is based in the values of democracy and human rights," Moon said.

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The South Korean leader stressed good relations, despite political tensions, following statements from U.S. President Donald Trump voicing concern about Seoul-Tokyo ties.

"They have to get along with each other. If they don't get along, what are we doing? South Korea and Japan have to sit down and get along with each other," Trump said Friday.

Trade tensions prevail between the two countries, but critical feelings of the dispute are growing in Japan.

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South Korean news agency Yonhap reported Wednesday Japan's National Trade Union Council sent a letter to a Korean trade union, pledging to protest Abe's trade restrictions.

Concern over future business losses are also growing among Japanese firms.

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