• Kyodo


Japan plans to launch a bilateral relations panel to discuss how to expand exchanges with South Korea as the two countries mark the 20th anniversary of a declaration to promote future-oriented ties, government sources said.

Based on the envisaged panel’s input, the government apparently hopes to step up diplomacy and improve ties frayed by wartime history, especially the issue of the “comfort women,” Japan’s euphemism for the tens of thousands of females who were forced to work in its military brothels before and during the war.

The roughly 10-member panel will include people from both academic and business circles who are well-versed in Japan-South Korea relations, the sources said Saturday, adding the lineup would be finalized by the end of the month.

On the agenda is the promotion of people-to-people exchanges in such fields as tourism, sports and art.

The members are expected to analyze past successes in Japan of South Korean entertainment, as well as Seoul’s opening of its doors to Japanese culture after the 1998 declaration signed by then-Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung in October that year.

The significance of declaration itself will also be on the agenda, according to sources.

The document noted that Japan caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of South Korea during its colonial rule, and Obuchi expressed his “deep remorse and heartfelt apology” for the historical fact.

The comfort women issue continued to be a source of diplomatic friction in the following years, but the Japanese government has been looking to improve bilateral ties at a time when cooperation is crucial to denuclearizing North Korea.

In 2015 Tokyo and Seoul agreed to “finally and irreversibly” settle the issue and signed a formal document to that effect.

When South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha visited Tokyo earlier this month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed a willingness to develop “future-oriented” ties on the joint declaration’s 20th anniversary.

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