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Japan, South Korea to hold high-level talks on Wednesday

Meeting likely to focus on ‘comfort women’ issue while laying groundwork for Abe-Park summit

Kyodo

Tokyo and Seoul will hold director general-level talks in the South Korean capital on Wednesday to discuss issues including Japan’s wartime sexual enslavement of Korean women, Japan’s Foreign Ministry said Sunday.

At the talks, Japan intends to lay the groundwork for a summit between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye. In contrast, South Korea wants solving the so-called comfort women issue to be the top priority.

Junichi Ihara, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, and Lee Sang-deok, director general of the South Korean Foreign Ministry’s Northeast Asian Affairs Bureau, are expected to attend.

Ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama’s Asian tour, which includes stops in Japan and South Korea at the end of this month, both countries are keen to show Washington that they are making efforts to repair frayed ties through the talks.

At the end of March, the two governments reached a basic agreement to hold the director general-level talks this month. However, the coordination has been delayed by a difference of opinions between South Korea, which reportedly wants to restrict the agenda to the comfort women issue, and Japan, which hopes to take up various outstanding bilateral issues.

It will be the first director general-level meeting between Japan and South Korea since the middle of February.

Abe and Park met for their first formal talks in the Netherlands at the end of March. Based on that development, the Japanese side is apparently exploring the possibility of a summit meeting between the two countries.

Ties between Japan and South Korea have been severely strained since Abe came to power in December 2012 amid quarrels over historical issues surrounding Japan’s colonial rule of Korea and a territorial dispute in the Sea of Japan.

The diplomatic strain deepened following Abe’s visit on Dec. 26 last year to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 14 Class-A war criminals along with the country’s war dead.

Japan has urged South Korea to hold high-level dialogues to resolve their differences, but Seoul has made it clear that the Japanese government must first address historical issues, including the comfort women issue.