WASHINGTON – The South Korean foreign minister called Tuesday for “sincere” actions to defuse the tension over wartime history in Northeast Asia, pressing Japanese leaders to take a more conciliatory tone.
Yun Byung-se said after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington that they recognized growing uncertainty pervading Northeast Asia in recent times.
Yun did not go into specifics but said, “I pointed out that historical issues stand in the way of reconciliation and cooperation in this region and I emphasized the need for sincere actions.”
He and Kerry “agreed to strengthen our efforts to alleviate tension and promote peace and cooperation in Northeast Asia.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe added to the tension in late December when he visited Yasukuni Shrine, which honors war criminals alongside Japan’s war dead, a move that always draws the ire of South Korea and China.
Yun and Kerry repeated their call on North Korea to abandon its nuclear arms and other atomic-related programs. They reaffirmed that they “will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state nor as a nuclear-armed state, and nor will the international community abide by that,” Kerry said.
Abe said he made the pilgrimage to Yasukuni to renew his resolve to create a peaceful world and will make efforts to have Japan’s neighbors understand his act.
In Tokyo on Wednesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga repeated the government’s official line, saying at a news conference, “The door for dialogue is always open.”
He added that Japan will patiently continue efforts to explain its thoughts to the South Korean side.
Relations between Tokyo and Seoul were strained before Abe’s shrine visit due to disputes over interpretations of history related to Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945 and sovereignty over the rocky islets in the Sea of Japan called Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea.
Kishida in Europe
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida arrived Tuesday in Spain for the first stop on a European tour in which he will press Japan’s case in the diplomatic tussle with China.
Japan is looking for support in Europe and other parts of the world that are sometimes suspicious of China, which accuses Japan of resurgent militarism.
During his tour, which will include a visit to France, Kishida will brief his counterparts on the establishment in December of a body akin to the U.S. National Security Council. A Foreign Ministry official said he will also explain Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s move to promote Japan as a “proactive contributor to the peace.”
Kishida met with Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo in Madrid late Tuesday.
The two ministers exchanged soccer jerseys bearing each other’s name and the number 400, a reference to Japan’s 400-year relationship with Spain, according to a message posted on the Spanish Foreign Ministry’s Twitter account.
There was no news conference, but before the meeting the Spanish Foreign Ministry said the two would discuss the global economic situation and the possibility of Spain and Japan working together in Latin America, “an important emerging market where Spanish firms have an important presence.”
Kishida was scheduled to make a courtesy call on Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and King Juan Carlos on Wednesday before moving on to Paris, where he will meet with Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
On Thursday, the foreign and defense ministers from Japan and France will have their first-ever “two plus two” meeting, which will be followed by a joint news conference.
Kishida will also meet with President Francois Hollande on Thursday.