National / Politics

Japanese and South Korean lawmakers hope special committees can mend ties for 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Kyodo, Staff Report

Japanese and South Korean parliamentary groups plan to jointly work toward making the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics a success, with both sides setting up special committees to that end, lawmakers with knowledge of the matter said Tuesday.

The cross-party groups hope to help create an environment for Tokyo and Seoul to mend political ties that have chilled over wartime history and trade. The South Korean side broached the idea of creating the committees for coordination, according to the lawmakers, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The envisaged units would seek to realize a visit by a group of South Korean lawmakers to Japan on the occasion of the Summer Games, and promote exchanges between citizens of the two countries through tourism.

The Japanese and South Korean parliamentary groups are expected to finalize the plan when they hold a joint meeting on Friday in Tokyo, in a tone distinct from the anti-Japanese sentiment seen in some quarters in South Korea where there are calls for a boycott of the games.

The possible display of Japan’s Rising Sun flag at venues during the games has become an issue in recent weeks after South Korea’s parliament adopted a resolution urging the International Olympic Committee to ban the use of the flag. The design is seen by some as a symbol of Japan’s wartime aggression and militarism because it was used by the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy.

Tokyo organizers do not plan to ban use of the flag.

Ties between Tokyo and Seoul have often been fraught with issues linked to their wartime past and during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean Peninsula, such as the “comfort women” and wartime laborers.

The term comfort women is a euphemism used to refer to women who provided sex, including those who did so against their will, for Japanese troops before and during World War II.

When South Korea hosted the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended its opening ceremony and held talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Reflecting the poor state of the bilateral relationship, no summit has been held for more than a year — even as Abe and South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon agreed on the importance of dialogue during a meeting last week.

The recent chill stems from a series of South Korean court rulings that ordered Japanese companies to pay compensation for wartime forced labor. The rulings run counter to Japan’s position that the compensation issue was settled under a 1965 bilateral accord.

Japan’s imposition of tighter export controls and the removal of South Korea from its list of preferential trading partners triggered a tit-for-tat move by Seoul, which also took Japan off its own, similar list and decided to end an intelligence-sharing pact with Tokyo.

“We hope to step up exchanges between parliamentarians and encourage dialogue at the government level as well,” a senior member of the Japanese parliamentary group said.

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