Tokyo and Seoul on Monday celebrated the 50th anniversary of postwar diplomatic ties, with the leaders of both countries attending ceremonies held in their respective nations.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he would strive to create a new era for the bilateral relationship, reflecting on the past 50 years since the normalization of relations.
“Let’s build a new era for both of our countries, hand in hand reflecting on the past 50 years of friendship, history of development and looking to the coming 50 years,” Abe told a packed crowd at a Tokyo hotel during an anniversary event organized by the South Korean Embassy.
“Together with President Park Geun-hye, I will work to that end,” Abe added.
Stressing the two countries’ common strategic interests, Abe said that boosting bilateral relations, as well as ties involving Japan, South Korea and the United States, is critical to maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region given the current environment surrounding Northeast Asia.
Abe didn’t touch on Japan’s wartime history, which has roiled ties with South Korea.
Meanwhile, Park sent a message to the audience at the Tokyo ceremony saying that both countries should strive to solve historical issues with a spirit of reconciliation and coexistence.
“We should make this year, which marks the 50th anniversary since the normalization of ties, a turning point so that South Korea and Japan can work together for a new, cooperative and mutually beneficial future. This is our duty for the future generation,” Park said in a statement read aloud by visiting South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se. “To that end, it is important to lay down the heavy burden of historical issues, which is the largest wall” standing between the two countries.
There have been some recent signs of improvement in relations, including Abe’s meeting with South Korea’s top diplomat earlier in the day at the prime minister’s office.
Abe told Yun, the Park administration’s first top diplomat to visit Japan, that he wants to further boost bilateral ties as the relationship enters the next 50 years.
“There are various issues between Japan and South Korea, as we are close neighbors,” Abe said during his meeting with Yun. “For this reason, it’s important to hold talks without reservations.”
Despite Abe’s repeated offers to hold a summit with Park, the two leaders have not held a formal one-on-one meeting since taking office, Abe at the end of 2012 and Park in 2013. This divide has come to symbolize the two nations’ soured relations.
Issues that have held back the two countries include differing views about Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, which lasted from 1910 until Japan’s 1945 capitulation in World War II.
On Sunday, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Yun agreed to step up their efforts to set up a summit between Abe and Park “at an appropriate time.”
“We came to share the importance of holding a 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.”
Kishida also said they agreed to hold a trilateral summit involving China at the earliest possible time this year.
The summit, which had been held annually since 2008, was last held in May 2012.
Kishida and Yun agreed to continue regular talks on the sidelines of international conferences and to pay mutual visits.
“As part of that effort, Foreign Minister Yun extended an invitation to me to visit South Korea this year, so we will promote coordination for my visit to South Korea at an appropriate time,” Kishida said.
He and Yun have held talks five times outside of Japan, most recently in Seoul in March.
In an even stronger sign of warming ties, Kishida noted that the two envoys also agreed to cooperate so that Japan’s Meiji Era 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 said.
Seoul had opposed the bid, contending that some 57,900 Koreans were conscripted to work at some of the proposed sites during Japan’s colonial rule.
Kishida didn’t explain South Korea’s apparent dropping of opposition to Japan’s UNESCO proposal.
He 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.
Information from Kyodo added