• Kyodo, staff report


South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong said Wednesday the head of the ministry’s Asian and Pacific affairs bureau left for Japan to hold working-level talks with his counterpart in a bid to improve chilly bilateral ties.

The talks will be the first face-to-face meeting between two of the countries’ senior diplomats since last October and also the first since U.S. President Joe Biden took office in January.

The meeting has been arranged as Seoul and Tokyo remain at odds over issues related to Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, including former South Korean “comfort women.”

The term is a euphemism for the women who suffered under Japan’s military brothel system before and during World War II. They were forced or coerced into sexual servitude under various circumstances, including abduction, deception and poverty.

Chung told a news conference in Seoul that he wants to hold a meeting with his Japanese counterpart, Toshimitsu Motegi, at an early stage to strengthen communication between the two countries.

“As a move to enhance communication with Japan, our director-general for Asian and Pacific affairs left for Japan today,” Chung said, vowing to resume channels for working-level talks by high-ranking officials.

The foreign ministerial meeting could take the form of bilateral talks or trilateral ones that also include U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Chung said. The move comes in line with the Biden administration’s push for more cooperation among the United States, South Korea and Japan.

Bilateral ties have sunk to their lowest point in decades following South Korean Supreme Court rulings in 2018 that ordered Japanese companies to compensate groups of South Koreans for forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

In January, a South Korean court ordered the Japanese government to compensate former comfort women over their treatment in Japanese military brothels.

While Chung added he aims to expand cooperation with Japan in other fields than diplomacy, he expressed strong concern over Tokyo’s approval Tuesday of school textbooks that referred to Takeshima, a group of islets controlled by South Korea, as Japan’s territory. South Korea calls the islets Dokdo.

“Our government will take strong action against the distortion of territorial history in the textbooks that the Japanese government announced yesterday,” Chung said.

On Tuesday, South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Choi Young-sam demanded a correction of the approved textbooks.

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