SEOUL – Visiting Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and South Korean President Kim Dae Jung agreed Monday to cooperate over North Korea and to conclude negotiations on a bilateral investment treaty by the end of the year.
The two leaders also agreed in their talks at Seoul’s Blue House presidential office to jointly work toward ensuring the success of July’s Group of Eight summit in Okinawa and the Asia-Europe Meeting summit, to be held in Seoul in October, they told a news conference.
In the meeting, Kim urged Mori to grant permanent foreign residents of Japan the right to vote in local elections by the end of the year. The prime minister promised to consider the request seriously.
Another major topic covered in the talks was the first-ever summit between North and South Korea, scheduled for June 12-14 in Pyongyang.
Kim explained his plan for peaceful coexistence with North Korea, while Mori expressed support for the Pyongyang summit and cited the importance of Japan, South Korea and the United States coordinating their policies on the North.
“I told the president that we fully support (the talks) and pray for their success,” Mori told the news conference.
Mori also expressed hope that progress would be made in the inter-Korean summit on issues concerning Japan and the U.S., such as North Korea’s missile development, Japanese officials said.
Kim indicated at the news conference he is willing to take up such issues with North Korea, saying, “I can talk about issues not only of interest to South and North Korea, but also to the United States and Japan.”
Mori also explained to Kim Tokyo’s willingness to proceed with efforts aimed at normalizing diplomatic ties between Japan and North Korea and asked him to convey that message to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, the Japanese officials said.
Kim promised South Korea’s support, saying an improvement in Japan-North Korea ties would contribute to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.
For the first time since 1992, Japan and North Korea resumed negotiations in April on establishing diplomatic ties. They agreed to hold the next round this month in Tokyo but the second round of high-level talks has been postponed, with no timetable for resumption set.
Regarding the Okinawa summit, Mori told Kim that major topics would include information technology and the “digital divide” — the gap between countries possessing high technology and those lacking it.
Kim asked Mori to promote discussion aimed at reforming the International Monetary Fund in the July 21-23 talks, the officials said.
Kim and Mori also confirmed their plan to boost bilateral ties by promoting mutual investment and cooperation in industrial technology. They also confirmed a plan to consider boosting flights between the two countries when they co-host the 2002 World Cup soccer finals and to promote bilateral cultural and artistic exchanges.
Kim has repeatedly called on Japan to grant local-election voting rights to permanent Korean residents. Koreans in Japan — numbering 600,000 and the largest group of non-Japanese permanent residents — cannot vote or run for public office.
Deliberations on a bill that would grant such voting rights began in the Diet last week. The bill will almost certainly be scrapped, however, since Mori is expected to dissolve the Lower House on Friday for a general election June 25.
At the outset of the talks, Kim told Mori he hoped the general election would yield good results for the prime minister. He also formally conveyed his plan to attend the June 8 funeral of Mori’s predecessor, Keizo Obuchi.
Mori asked Kim to also visit Japan separately from the funeral, and Kim replied that he wants to do so when the timing is right.
During the talks, neither Kim nor Mori touched on the Japanese prime minister’s recent remarks that Japan is “a divine country with the Emperor at its center,” Japanese officials said. But Mori apologized once more at a news conference after the summit for causing a “misunderstanding” with the remark, which reminded many of the ideology that drove Japan’s wartime militarism.
“I reflect on having made the remark and causing misunderstanding to many people,” Mori said in response to a reporter’s question.
Mori later met with South Korean Prime Minister-designate Lee Han Dong and agreed on a variety of issues, including bilateral collaboration on cancer research, the officials said. Lee told Mori that cancer experts from both countries should collaborate on studies of the disease since Japan and South Korea have similar dietary habits, they said.
Mori returned to Tokyo on Monday night after making a one-day visit to Seoul. It was his first visit to South Korea since becoming prime minister April 5, succeeding Obuchi, who was felled by a stroke. Obuchi died May 14 at the age of 62.