Japan will consider crafting a new document to mark the 20th anniversary in October of a joint declaration seeking to promote closer ties with South Korea, government sources have said.
The government is hoping to show that relations between Tokyo and Seoul have been improving and arrangements will begin for a potential visit to Japan by South Korean President Moon Jae-in this year, the sources added Wednesday.
Moon’s visit, if it comes to fruition, would boost the likelihood that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the South Korean leader will jointly issue a new document.
Wartime history has continued to cast a shadow over ties between the Asian neighbors. The issue of “comfort women,” or women who were forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels, has been a source of friction despite a 2015 bilateral agreement to “finally and irreversibly” settle the matter.
South Korea has been sounding out Japan about the possibility of issuing a new document. Japan, for its part, sees bilateral ties stabilizing despite the comfort women issue and believes it is necessary to advance relations and strengthen coordination in handling North Korea’s nuclear and missile issues, the sources said.
In the run-up to the 20th anniversary, Tokyo is making preparations to launch a panel, likely to be headed by former Cultural Affairs Agency chief Seiichi Kondo, to discuss ways to promote economic and cultural exchanges.
Tokyo and Seoul are expected to determine whether to issue a joint document after weighing the panel’s proposals, expected by this fall, as well as those by South Korea’s public-private sector working group on tourism and cultural exchanges, launched in May.
Even if the two countries decide to begin drafting the document, they will likely avoid touching on thorny historical issues as much as possible, according to the sources.
The current joint declaration, issued in October 1998 by Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, sought to improve bilateral ties leading into the 21st century.
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”.
During a meeting earlier in the month with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, Abe expressed a willingness to improve ties in a “forward-looking” manner.