Ministers of Korea, Japan meet to mend ties

Ministers of Korea, Japan meet to mend ties
South Korea's Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se shakes hands with Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida at the foreign ministry's Iikura guest house in Tokyo on June 21, 2015

The foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan held talks in Tokyo on Sunday to forge much-needed momentum to mend bilateral relations that have been strained amid escalating historical and territorial feuds.

Their meeting was arranged as the two countries are to mark the 50th anniversary on Monday of the normalisation of bilateral diplomatic ties. It was the first visit by Seoul's top diplomat since the Park Geun-hye administration was inaugurated in February 2013.

During their talks, Seoul's Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida exchanged views on a wide range of bilateral, regional and global issues including North Korea's escalating nuclear and missile threats, Seoul officials said.

High on the agenda was a set of pending history issues including Japan's sexual enslavement of Korean women, euphemistically called "comfort women, and Japan's bid to gain UNESCO World Heritage status for 23 sites from the Meiji-era industrialization.

Attention was being drawn to whether the ministers could move forward the two sides' ongoing negotiations on the comfort women issue. Since April 2014, the two sides have held eight rounds of director-general-level talks on the issue, which were seen to have made some progress.

During a recent interview with the Washington Post, President Park said bilateral negotiations on the comfort women issue had yielded "considerable progress," and were currently in the "final stages."

Seoul has long demanded that Tokyo offer an explicit apology for the sexual slavery and legal compensation to Korean victims. Tokyo argues that all colonial-era issues including the comfort women issue were settled under a 1965 normalisation pact.

The two sides were also expected to delve deep into Tokyo's push to put the sites of "Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution" as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Seoul has demanded that Tokyo should exclude seven of the sites where around 57,900 Koreans were forced to work during the colonial era, or clearly present the facts about forced labour when the sites gain world heritage status.

The two sides have engaged in tough consultations over the issue. The World Heritage Committee will convene a general session from June 28-July 8 in Bonn, Germany where its 21 members will make a final decision over the issue.

During the talks, Yun was also expected to demand that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe include his sincere apology for Japan's colonial-era atrocities in a statement that he plans to issue to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in August.

On Monday, Yun is to pay a courtesy visit to Prime Minister Abe and attend an event to mark the 50th anniversary of the normalisation of the bilateral relationship, which is arranged by the Korean Embassy in Tokyo.

Kishida and Shotaro Yachi, secretary general of Japan's National Security Secretariat, are expected to attend the event in Tokyo. Reports raised the possibility of Abe attending the event.

In Seoul, the Japanese Embassy also plans to hold an event to mark the 50th anniversary which top South Korean and Japanese officials are expected to attend. Abe is expected to send Fukushiro Nukaga, a high-profile Japanese politician, as his special envoy to the event.

Reports say President Park might attend the event or deliver a congratulatory message.

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