Seoul’s Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se called for Tokyo’s “concrete actions” to prove its vows to uphold past apologies for its wartime misdeeds, noting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s speech to mark the 70 anniversary of the end of World War II “fell short of Koreans’ expectations.”
In a written interview with The Korea Herald last week, Yun also noted “meaningful, considerable progress” in Seoul’s ongoing negotiations with Tokyo over the issue of Japan’s wartime sexual enslavement of Korean women.
“While there are some aspects of the statement delivered by Prime Minister Abe on Friday that fell short of our expectations, we take note of the fact that he clarified how the preceding administrations’ historical recognition of remorse and apology for the colonial rule and aggression will remain ‘unshakable,’” he said.
“We plan to watch with keen interest how Japan will execute such position into concrete actions.”
As for the prospect of a South Korea-Japan summit, Yun pointed out that there would naturally be a bilateral contact between President Park Geun-hye and Prime Minister Abe should the trilateral summit among the leaders of South Korea, China and Japan be held -- possibly within this year.
Upbraiding Pyongyang for rejecting Seoul’s repeated overtures for dialogue on its denuclearization and carrying out provocative acts including the recent land mine blasts in the Demilitarized Zone, the minister warned that the communist regime would “pay the price” for the provocations.
Touching on the South Korea-U.S. summit slated for October, Yun said that Presidents Park and Barack Obama would present their shared recognition of North Korean issues including the evolving nuclear problem.
Addressing the persistent military threats from the North, which have further escalated ahead of the South Korea-U.S. joint military drills, the summit will also reaffirm the “firm and unwavering U.S. commitment” to the defence of South Korea, and affirm the shared vision of peninsular reunification, Yun said.
Commenting on the maritime disputes in the South China Sea that have been escalating with China constructing artificial islands equipped with military facilities such as an airstrip, Yun reiterated Seoul’s position that differences should be resolved peacefully in accordance with internationally established norms of conduct.
“The South China Sea is one of the world’s major sea lines of communication. Therefore, maintaining the peace and stability of the South China Sea, including the freedom of navigation and overflights, is clearly in the interest of all the countries in the region,” he said.
The following are the excerpts of the interview with Minister Yun.
Korea Herald: The thorniest issue between Seoul and Tokyo for now are the Korean victims who were forced into sexual servitude by Japan during World War II. President Park Geun-hye has mentioned the bilateral negotiations over the issue are at the “final stage.”
Minister Yun: This year alone, eight Korean victims have passed away. Given their old age, the resolution of the matter is urgent. Recognising the urgency, we have made various efforts to address it. We have so far held eight rounds of intense director general-level talks with Japan since April last year, and our assessment is that there has been some meaningful progress.
I cannot elaborate in detail about the content of the ongoing consultations at this point. But from a broad perspective, we can say that clearly, there has been considerable progress compared to the initial phase of the talks.
Prime Minister Abe said in his speech to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II that Japan wishes to be a country embracing the women whose dignity and honour were hurt during the war. In this respect, we hope that Japan shows sincerity in resolving the matter of comfort women as well.
KH: Amid reports about the prospect of a China-Japan summit, analysts point to the need for a Korea-Japan summit. When do you think the summit can be held and under what conditions?
Yun: Basically, we are open to holding the Korea-Japan summit. Although there remain a number of tough issues, continued bilateral efforts to resolve them wisely and with patience would contribute to improving the relations, thereby creating an environment where the summit talks can actually take place.
Also, as the chair of the trilateral co-operation mechanism of South Korea, Japan and China, Seoul has been continuing diplomatic efforts to hold the trilateral summit at the earliest possible date in the latter half of this year. When the three leaders meet, there would naturally be a bilateral contact. It may be too early to talk about when the trilateral summit will be held, but we hope the meeting to take place within this year at a not too late time.
KH: You have stressed the need for Seoul and Tokyo to work together to create a virtuous cycle for the bilateral relations. What do you think each side should do to entrench such cycle?
Yun: We have been making diverse efforts with determination to make this year -- the 50th anniversary of the normalisation of bilateral ties -- a pivotal moment for improvement in relations. I believe that such an atmosphere is being created to a certain extent.
The leaders of both countries each attended events on June 22 to mark the 50th anniversary and expressed their intentions to improve the relations. A total of seven foreign ministerial talks took place including my first visit to Japan in June since I assumed post. The two sides have also settled the issue of Japan’s bid to secure world heritage status for its Meiji-era industrialization facilities through dialogue.
While there are some aspects of the statement delivered by Prime Minister Abe on Friday that fell short of our expectations, we take note of the fact that he clarified how the preceding administrations’ historical recognition of remorse and apology for the colonial rule and aggression will remain unshakable. We plan on watching with keen interest how Japan will execute such position into concrete actions.
Although there are still quite a number of outstanding issues, I believe that should the Japanese government step forward with more enthusiasm to resolve them, the bilateral relations can evolve into a virtuous cycle.
Seoul has been principled in addressing the issue of how history is viewed, even as we intend to actively push ahead with bilateral co-operation that serves our mutual interests, such as in the security, economic, social and cultural realms.
KH: The maritime disputes in the South China Sea have been escalating with China constructing artificial islands equipped with military facilities there. Calls have been growing for Seoul to play a role with regard to the South China Sea disputes.
Yun: The South China Sea is one of the world’s major sea lines of communication. Therefore, maintaining the peace and stability of the South China Sea, including the freedom of navigation and overflights, is clearly in the interest of all the countries in the region.
In this context, my government has been closely following developments in the South China Sea with concern. My government is of the view that differences should be resolved peacefully in accordance with internationally established norms of conduct and this position was reiterated at the recent ARF and EAS Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Malaysia.
In this regard, we believe that the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea, adopted by China and ASEAN for the maintenance of peace and stability in the South China Sea, should be implemented effectively and in its entirety, and hope that the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea will be concluded at the earliest possible time.
My government takes positive note of the recent dialogues and consultations between ASEAN and China to this end, and looks forward to substantive progress being made toward the early conclusion of the COC.
KH: You have mentioned that there would be a “signification agreement” during the South Korea-U.S. summit slated for October with regard to North Korea. Can you elaborate?
Yun: As this year marks the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan’s colonial rule and 70 years of division, we have made multifaceted efforts to achieve substantive progress on North Korea’s denuclearization. But Pyongyang has not only rejected our overtures for dialogue, but also held fast to its “Byungjin” policy line while continuously advancing its nuclear capabilities. The North has rejected all talks related to its nuclear programme with all five parties of the six-party talks.
(With North Korea’s continued threats and provocation) I anticipate that the leaders of South Korea and the U.S. will share their evaluations of the overall security situations on the peninsula including North Korea’s nuclear issue and hold in-depth discussions on how to manage and tackle the current situation and use the occasion to declare their shared perspectives.
I believe the leaders will share their overall view of the region’s situation in its entirety and offer their common understanding on how to resolve the problems of North Korea and its nuclear weapons development.
KH: The issue of the U.S.’ potential deployment of THAAD to Korea is expected to be a tough diplomatic issue. What do you think will be a wise way to address it?
Yun: I understand that internal discussions within the U.S. government are still ongoing and Washington has yet to make any request to Seoul for official consultations. Thus, I think it is inappropriate for me to make a comment based on a hypothetical situation.
This issue should be approached from the perspective that the root cause of the problem is North Korea’s evolving nuclear and missile threats. In light of this, my government has maintained the consistent position that it will make prudent, cool-headed judgment based upon our comprehensive consideration of national interests including security factors.