Tokyo, Seoul vow future-oriented cooperation, with history in mind

Kyodo

Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and new South Korean President Park Geun Hye agreed Monday that the new governments in both countries should closely cooperate in a future-oriented manner, Aso told reporters.

In a meeting in Seoul, Park also indicated to the former prime minister the importance of taking account of historical perceptions in future-oriented cooperation, a Foreign Ministry source from Tokyo said.

Park’s remarks apparently reflect South Korea’s desire for forward-looking responses from Japan on a territorial row and on the issue of Korean females forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese military during the war, both regarded by Seoul as “history issues.”

The meeting between Aso, who attended the president’s inauguration ceremony earlier in the day, and Park was viewed as an effort by Tokyo to mend bilateral ties and enhance coordination in response to North Korea’s recent nuclear test and rocket launch.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe now plans to prepare the ground for his first talks with Park on the sidelines of a trilateral summit that also involves China in South Korea around May, Japanese sources said.

“The government intends to make efforts to build future-oriented, multilayered relations with the South Korean government on the occasion of the births of new administrations in Japan and South Korea,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference in Tokyo.

During the meeting with Aso, Park did not make concrete references to the “comfort women” (sex slave) issue or the two countries’ territorial dispute over a pair of South Korean-controlled islets in the Sea of Japan that are claimed by Japan, according to Aso.

But Park was quoted as telling Aso that the “current generation must cooperate with one another so that the younger generation can move forward in a future-oriented manner.”

Aso, for his part, said that it is vital for both sides to understand each other’s positions and that the politicians of both countries have important roles to play.

He also conveyed Abe’s congratulatory words to Park. And the two agreed on the view that bilateral cooperation is important not just for the two countries but for peace in Northeast Asia.

Besides Aso, who also serves as finance minister, former Prime Ministers Yoshiro Mori and Yasuo Fukuda, and former Finance Minister Fukushiro Nukaga were among the Japanese who attended Park’s inauguration ceremony.

Bitter memories of Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula run deep among many South Koreans.

Bilateral ties have been strained further due to the row over the Takeshima Islands, called Dokdo in South Korea, especially since last August, when then-President Lee Myung Bak made an unprecedented visit to the islets.

The meeting also came on the heels of Seoul lodging a protest with Tokyo last Friday over the sending of a senior official for the first time to a local government ceremony commemorating the day the islands were incorporated into Shimane Prefecture in 1905.

On Monday, a group of self-employed business owners in South Korea said it would begin a boycott of Japanese goods this Friday, apparently in response to the dispatch of the Japanese government official to last Friday’s Takeshima Day ceremony in Shimane.

  • Christopher-trier

    In South Korea most wish to get on with Japan. By far the largest share of tourists visiting Japan are Koreans, for example. Most Koreans have at least some contact with Japan. What they want is for Japan to fully acknowledge what happened during Japan’s colonial rule of the country without obfuscating. They don’t expect grovelling, just candour. South Koreans are reasonable with their expectations. By accepting Korean ownership of the Dokdo/Takeshima Islands Japan would also concede nothing and gain a great deal of good will. South Korea controls then anyway and is not inclined to cede them to anyone. That dispute is not existential like the Senkaku Issue.