GWANGJU, SOUTH KOREA – The culture ministers of Japan, China and South Korea met Saturday in the ancient South Korean city of Gwangju and designated one East Asia City of Culture in each country.
Culture minister Hakubun Shimomura nominated Yokohama, a historic port city known for international exchanges, while China’s envoy chose Quanzhou, an ancient trading port in southern Fujian province, and South Korea’s representative selected Gwangju, for its more than 2,000-year history.
The three cities will serve as the principal venues for a series of cultural and arts exchange programs to be organized next year to promote mutual understanding among the three neighbors, whose ties have been harmed by increasingly rancorous territorial clashes and conflicting historical interpretations.
Shimomura’s trilateral get-together with Chinese Minister of Culture Cai Wu and South Korean Culture Minister Yoo Jin-ryong was the first Cabinet-level meeting among the three countries since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office last December.
Tokyo’s relations with Beijing and Seoul have been badly strained over the past year by the Senkaku and Takeshima territorial disputes, as well as differing historical views of Japan’s invasion of China and colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula in the last century.
“One big achievement of this meeting is that we have come to share the understanding that cultural exchanges are important to develop the ties of our countries,” Shimomura told reporters after the one-day summit.
The three also agreed to hold the next trilateral meeting of cultural ministers next year in Japan. As host nation, Japan will additionally put on an arts and culture festival featuring events and performances from the three countries.
The three sides will designate new East Asia Cities of Culture from 2015.
Japan, China and South Korea launched the trilateral minister-level culture summits in 2007. The Gwangju meeting was the fifth held. The three neighbors also held a ministerial conference on environmental issues in May, but, reflecting its soured diplomatic ties with Japan, China only dispatched a deputy minister.