Japan, South Korea mark 50 years of ties
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”.