National / Politics

Seoul, Tokyo agree Pyongyang a priority in high-level talks

Kyodo

Japan and South Korea agreed at high-level talks Wednesday on the importance of coordinating on North Korea, but reconciliation appeared as elusive as ever as each stuck to its positions on thorny issues related to their shared history.

Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki and his South Korean counterpart Cho Tae Yong apparently did not discuss in any detail the prospects of Japan and South Korea holding a trilateral summit with the United States later this month, when their leaders will attend an international conference on nuclear security in the Netherlands.

Wednesday’s talks were the most prominent since Abe’s controversial Dec. 26 visit to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Class-A war criminals along with Japan’s war dead. The last time the vice foreign ministers met was in July.

According to a South Korean official quoted by Yonhap News Agency, Cho emphasized to Saiki that Japan “should refrain from revisionist behavior under a correct perception of history and respond sincerely to the unsettled issue of (Japanese imperialist soldiers’) past sexual enslavement of South Korean women in order for the South Korea-Japan relations to develop stably.”

Saiki was said by the Japanese side to have told Cho that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has inherited previous Cabinets’ perceptions of history during and preceding World War II.

A 1993 government statement issued by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono acknowledged the Japanese military’s involvement in the forced recruitment of Korean women into wartime sexual servitude and apologized to the victims, while a 1995 statement issued by then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama apologized for the wartime suffering inflicted by Japan on its Asian neighbors.

South Korea has criticized Japan’s recent moves to re-examine the Kono statement. On Monday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the Abe administration will not revise the Kono statement.

South Korean President Park Geun Hye has not met with Abe since she took office in February 2013, saying the Japanese government must “stop negating past history” and “admit past wrongdoings” before a summit can take place.

Ties between South Korea and Japan have been severely strained since Abe came to office amid quarrels over historical issues surrounding Japan’s brutal 1910-1945 colonial rule of Korea and the territorial dispute over a pair of islets in the Sea of Japan controlled by Seoul but claimed by Tokyo.