Fukuda, Lee agree to push North

by Reiji Yoshida

Japan and South Korea will work together to push for the denuclearization of North Korea and work closely with the United States to achieve world peace and stability, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and President Lee Myung Bak agreed Monday in Tokyo.

Fukuda called North Korean issues the “biggest common agenda” for Tokyo and Seoul. Lee said he and Fukuda shared the view that the North’s nuclear development threatens the peace of Northeast Asia as well as the rest of the world.

Lee’s stance on building friendly ties with Japan on a number of issues is a clear departure from his predecessor, Roh Moo Hyun, who repeatedly appealed to anti-Japan and anti-U.S. sentiment in South Korea.

“We have no choice but to remember the history of South Korea-Japan relations. But we should not let the past prevent us from going toward the future,” Lee told reporters.

He added that he would not respond in knee-jerk fashion to remarks by individual Japanese politicians on matters of history.

Contentious statements by Japanese politicians over Japan’s colonization of the Korean Peninsula have repeatedly hampered the bilateral relationship and fanned nationalist sentiment in both countries.

During their meeting, the two leaders agreed to seek a “mature partnership” that encompasses issues of security, economic matters and cultural exchanges.

They also agreed to launch working-level talks in June to decide whether to restart negotiations on a free-trade agreement.

They agreed to double the current working holiday visa limit to 7,200 people from each side by 2009, to be increased further to 10,000 by 2012.

Lee met with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko later in the day.

During their joint news conference at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence, Lee said he would invite Emperor Akihito to come to South Korea. “There is no reason (the Emperor) could not visit,” Lee said.

According to a senior Foreign Ministry official who attended the Fukuda-Lee meeting, they did not touch on some thorny issues that have plagued the bilateral relationship.

Among these is the territorial dispute over Takeshima Island, known as Dokdo in South Korea, differences over exclusive economic zone borders and visits by Japanese politicians to the war-related Yasukuni Shrine, the official said.

“We have made a very good start at resuming shuttle summit diplomacy,” Fukuda said, referring to their agreement on mutual visits by the two nations’ top leaders.

Lee also asked Fukuda to push for legislation to give South Korean residents here the right to vote in local elections.

Fukuda responded that he is well-aware of South Korean people’s interest in the voting issue but that the Diet has not reached a conclusion, the Foreign Ministry official said.

Many Koreans, who make up the largest non-Japanese ethnic group in Japan, are descendants of Koreans who came or were forced to come here during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

Giving permanent Korean residents the right to vote in local elections has long been a controversial issue in domestic politics.

Highlights of leaders’ statement

Following is the gist of a joint press release Monday by Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak. They agreed on:

* Cooperating closely toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in collaboration with the U.S.

* Holding working-level talks in June on resuming negotiations for a bilateral free-trade agreement.

* The importance of “shuttle diplomacy,” with Fukuda promising to visit South Korea later this year.

* Actively participating in creating an effective post-2013 framework to tackle climate change.

* Seeking ways for the two countries as aid donors to jointly support other parts of Asia and Africa.

* Expanding the number of young people in each country able to participate in the working holiday plan to up to 7,200 per year by 2009, and 10,000 by 2012.