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Top envoys meet in pursuit of Japan-Korea thaw

by

Staff Writer

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and his South Korean counterpart, Yun Byung-se, agreed Sunday to step up their efforts to set up a summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Park Geun-hye “at an appropriate time.”

The talks took place a day before the wartime foes were to mark the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties.

“We came to share the importance of holding a (Japan-South Korea) summit,” Kishida told reporters after two hours of talks with Yun at the Foreign Ministry’s Iikura Guesthouse. “We will continue our effort to set up the meeting at the earliest time possible.”

Abe and Park have not held a formal one-on-one meeting since taking office, Abe at the end of 2012 and Park in 2013, due to issues that include differing views about Japan’s brutal colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, which lasted from 1910 until Japan lost the war in 1945.

Kishida also said they agreed to hold the trilateral leaders’ summit involving Japan, South Korea and China at the earliest possible time this year. The summit, which had been held annually since 2008, was last held in May 2012.

Yun’s visit was the first by Seoul’s top diplomat under the administration of President Park. Kishida and Yun have held talks five times outside of Japan, most recently in Seoul in March.

Kishida said that Prime Minister Abe will attend a ceremony in Tokyo on Monday organized by the South Korean Embassy to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties, while President Park will take part in an event in Seoul organized by the Japanese Embassy.

In a stronger sign of warming ties, however, Kishida noted that the two envoys also agreed to cooperate so that Japan’s Meiji Era’s industrial sites and South Korea’s historic sites from the ancient kingdom of Baekje will both be listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

“As responsible members of the World Heritage Committee, both Japan and South Korea . . . we agreed completely to cooperate” on seeking both countries’ proposals for the UNESCO list.

Kishida didn’t explain what happened to South Korea’s opposition to Japan’s UNESCO proposal and did not elaborate.

The government states that the sites are important because they exemplify Japan’s industrial revolution, which is viewed as the world’s first successful example of industrialization outside the West. The feat was achieved over a short period of about 50 years from the 1850s to 1910.

South Korea has taken issue with the proposal because the sites include places where Koreans were forced to work after being shipped over during Japan’s annexation of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. Seoul calls such sites “negative war legacy.”

Kishida said they also discussed the “comfort women,” Japan’s euphemism for the tens of thousands females who were forced to work in Japan’s wartime military brothels. He only said they agreed to continue to discuss the long-standing issue at the director-general level.

Seoul has repeatedly demanded that Tokyo resolve the issue in a more sincere manner, but Tokyo maintains it was settled under the 1965 treaty and the five agreements both countries signed to normalize post-war bilateral ties. One of the agreements states that all compensation issues surrounding Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula were settled “completely and finally.”