Ja­pan, South Korea mark 50 years of ties

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL -

Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe pledged Mon­day to im­prove ties with South Korea af­ter years of strain over history and ter­ri­tory, as the two coun­tries held low-key cel­e­bra­tions of their re­la­tion­ship.

“In this year mark­ing half a cen­tury since diplo­matic nor­mal­iza­tion, I think it’s im­por­tant to con­firm the feel­ing we have to­wards each other by look­ing back over... the past 50 years,” Abe said at a re­cep­tion hosted by the South Korean em­bassy in Tokyo.

“Let us build a new era for our two coun­tries over the next 50 years... To achieve this, I want to join hands with Pres­i­dent Park (Geun-Hye) and make ef­forts to­gether.”

As well as the cream of Tokyo’s diplo­matic com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing US am­bas­sador Caro­line Kennedy, at least two for­mer Ja­panese prime min­is­ters were in the au­di­ence.

Point­ing to some of the weighty is­sues at play was the pres­ence of Yo­hei Kono, the man who, as chief cab­i­net sec­re­tary, penned the land­mark 1993 apol­ogy for Ja­pan’s wartime sys­tem of sex slav­ery, which saw up to 200,000 mainly-Korean women forced to serve Ja­panese sol­diers.

The sub­ject still poi­sons re­la­tions be­tween the two US al­lies, with Ja­pan in­sist­ing the prob­lem has been dealt with, while South Korea says Tokyo does not fully ac­cept its guilt and has not suf­fi­ciently atoned.

The is­sue, which has pro­vided the diplo­matic back­drop for the last few decades, has blis­tered to the fore since Abe and Park — both na­tion­al­ists — came to power in 2012 and 2013 re­spec­tively.

The two coun­tries also squab­ble over the own­er­ship of a pair of sparsely in­hab­ited islets in the Sea of Ja­pan (East Sea).

Years of Frosti­ness

Abe said Mon­day that Ja­pan and South Korea now have close eco­nomic re­la­tions, with a trade vol­ume 110 times larger than it was 50 years ago.

South Korean For­eign Min­is­ter Yun Byung-Se read a mes­sage from Park, in which she said there are “is­sues that are en­tan­gled tightly like a ball of yarn,” although she did not sin­gle out the sex slav­ery is­sue.

Park was due to at­tend a sim­i­lar cer­e­mony in Seoul later Mon­day.

While lim­ited and still some way short of a sum­mit, the ges­tures by Abe and Park ap­pear to in­di­cate a grad­ual warm­ing of re­la­tions af­ter sev­eral years of frosti­ness.

The two have not held for­mal bi­lat­eral talks since tak­ing of­fice.

Ahead of the re­cep­tion, Abe told Yun he would like to meet Park, some­thing he has said nu­mer­ous times be­fore.

Yun, on his first of­fi­cial visit to Tokyo, had held talks Sun­day with his Ja­panese coun­ter­part Fumio Kishida, when the two men agreed there would be a sum­mit “at an ap­pro­pri­ate time”.

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