Japan-Korea ministerial talks to tackle many high hurdles

Japan-Korea ministerial talks to tackle many high hurdles
This photo taken from a Yomiuri Shimbun helicopter on May 5, shows Gunkanjima, one of the World Heritage candidate sites.
PHOTO: Japan News/ANN

Attention is focused on what the Japanese and South Korean foreign ministers will discuss regarding the so-called comfort women issue at their meeting scheduled for Sunday.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye has said that Japan-South Korea negotiations on the issue are in their final stage, prompting speculation that the situation could see progress.

However, Japan has not changed its stance that a legal settlement has been already made with Seoul, leaving no signs of breaking the deadlock between the two countries.

Such talks between Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean counterpart Yun Byung-se were last held in Seoul in March. By discussing pending bilateral issues at the ministerial level, Tokyo and Seoul aim to set up a summit meeting between the two countries' leaders as early as possible.

The two sides have been holding director-general level negotiations on the comfort women issue since April last year.

When the eighth such meeting was held on June 11, Park said in an interview with The Washington Post that Japan and South Korea had made considerable headway on the issue and negotiations were in their final stage. Yun also told reporters in Washington on Monday that some meaningful progress had been made recently.

While South Korea has sought to take steps forward in the negotiations, Japan has maintained a cautious attitude. When the Democratic Party of Japan was in power in 2012, Tokyo unofficially offered Seoul an increase in a budget for the provision of medicine and home-based nursing care for the former comfort women. But the South Korean government declined the offer and instead called for Japan's legal responsibility to be clarified.

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said it maintains the Japanese government's conventional position that the issue of compensation for comfort women was settled completely and finally by the 1965 Agreement on the Settlement of Problems Concerning Property and Claims and the Economic Cooperation Between Japan and the Republic of Korea.

"Japan's stance is the same as has been explained over and over, so we'd like to tenaciously explain it in the foreign ministers meeting," Suga said at the press conference.

Aside from the topic of comfort women, a mountain of other pending issues exist between the two countries.

For example, South Korea opposes Japan's World Heritage bid for the historical industrial sites known as Sites of Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution, claiming that Korean workers were subjected to forced labour at some of the sites during wartime.

In addition, South Korea has banned the import of fishery products from eight Japanese prefectures. Japan, which has urged the ban's lifting due to its lack of a scientific basis, has filed a complaint with the World Trade Organisation.

In another case, a group of South Korean men stole a Buddha statue from a temple in Tsushima, Nagasaki Prefecture, but the object has not been returned despite Japan's requests.

Other problems include the territorial issue of the Takeshima islands and suits filed by former Korean workers over their wartime forced labour. The claims were admitted by a South Korean court, which has ordered Japanese firms to compensate them.

Given such problems, there appear to be many high hurdles to advancing the bilateral relationship during the foreign ministers' meeting.

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