Japan and South Korea need to use the recent UNESCO decision awarding world cultural heritage status to sites proposed by both countries as an opportunity to improve their troubled bilateral relationship, whose chilliness is symbolized by the absence of a one-on-one meeting between the top leaders of the close neighbors for four years. Both Tokyo and Seoul need to realize that the bitter diplomatic wrangling over the heritage site issue — which is supposed to be free of political considerations — was the direct result of the poor state of ties.

In view of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s planned statement marking the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II, the issue of “comfort women” — whose numbers included many Koreans — as well as lingering ripples from the differences in the two governments’ position over the heritage site issue, it is imperative that leaders and officials of Tokyo and Seoul strive to minimize friction between the two countries and to turn 2015 — which also marks half a century after they normalized diplomatic ties — into a mutually beneficial year.

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