NEW YORK – Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi met his South Korean counterpart Chung Eui-yong on Thursday and the two restated positions in a dispute that has brought tit-for-tat trade restrictions, but agreed to accelerate consultations to resolve the issue, according to Tokyo’s account of the meeting.
Motegi and Chung met in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
A historic feud over Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula including over wartime labor and “comfort women,” a euphemism for those who suffered under Japan’s military brothel system before and during World War II, has long soured bilateral ties between the two important U.S. allies.
The dispute over wartime labor in recent years has brought tit-for-tat export curbs and threatened security cooperation between the neighbors, despite the shared threat they face from North Korea.
Japan’s Foreign Ministry said Motegi and Chung reaffirmed the importance of cooperation between their countries in the interests of regional stability, including in dealing with Pyongyang.
When it came to the dispute, “Motegi firmly conveyed Japan’s principled positions on these issues and renewed his call for (South Korea) to take appropriate actions. Concerning these issues, Minister Chung gave explanations based on (South Korea’s) positions,” it said in a statement.
Still, the two ministers shared the view that it is necessary “to get Japan-South Korea relations to a normal condition” to move forward on broad cooperation, Motegi told reporters after the meeting.
“We had a candid and thorough discussion,” Motegi added, noting that the bilateral talks lasted 50 minutes, extending beyond the initially scheduled 30 minutes.
Chung reiterated South Korea’s opposition to Japan’s plan to allow Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. to release treated water from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant into the ocean.
Motegi told Chung that Tokyo will continue to explain its plan on scientific grounds.
They also discussed a territorial dispute over Takeshima, a group of islets in the Sea of Japan controlled by South Korea, which calls them Dokdo.
Despite a lack of tangible progress on various sticking points, a Japanese government official saw the meeting positively, saying the two countries had “a thorough discussion.”
Chung said on Wednesday that Seoul believed the issues could be resolved through dialogue.
He said it was unfortunate trade restrictions had resulted from political differences and he hoped these could be resolved soon, otherwise Seoul would have to bring them before a World Trade Organization panel.
Chung and Motegi met on the sidelines of the Group of Seven meeting in Britain in May but did not manage to narrow their differences and the meeting was over in 20 minutes.
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