Korean, Japanese leaders exhort Abe to make up with Seoul

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Korean, Japanese leaders exhort Abe to make up with Seoul

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A group of veteran statesmen from Korea and Japan, led by Korea’s former Prime Minister Lee Hong-koo, first from right, and Japan’s former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, third from right, met with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, far left, in Tokyo on Monday to request his efforts to improve strained bilateral ties on the 50th anniversary of normalized relations. [JIJI]

TOKYO - A group of veteran Korean political leaders met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Monday to request his efforts in improving bilateral ties to bring about what they called a second stage of normalization of diplomatic relations between the two neighbors.

The delegation of six diplomatic and economic leaders led by former Prime Minister Lee Hong-koo joined a group of five Japanese notables led by former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and talked with Abe at his residence in Tokyo.

The six Koreans and five Japanese resolved to form a civilian consultative group to tackle various bilateral issues this year, the 50th anniversary of normalization of ties between the two countries as well as the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and Korean liberation from Japanese colonial rule.

They requested Abe’s political resolve to ease bilateral tensions during this anniversary year.

“The 1965 normalization of Korea-Japan ties was a decision that came about in a very difficult environment,” former Prime Minister Lee said. “Currently, there are pending issues entangling the two countries, but we need to be able to pass by this most crucial moment and enable a second normalization of bilateral ties.”

Abe responded, “I agree, and I will work towards improving Korea-Japan relations with a sense of duty.”

He added, “There is no change in my desire to hold a leaders’ summit with President Park Geun-hye one day soon and discuss not only Korea-Japan relations but regional peace issues.”

Former Japanese Prime Minister Fukuda said, “This is the first time veteran statesmen of our two countries gathered like this, which signifies how serious the situation is. ... We need to be more alert and aggressive in improving relations.”

Amid rocky regional diplomatic relations, Korea, Japan and China held a trilateral foreign ministers’ meeting in Seoul on Saturday, the first since 2012.

The issue of the Japanese military’s coercion of young women into sexual slavery during World War II was not raised during the discussion.

The Korean delegation included men active on the foreign affairs front for decades, such as former speaker of the National Assembly Kim Soo-han; former Deputy Prime Minister Lee Seung-yun; Samyang Group Chairman Kim Yoon, who is head of the Korea-Japan Economic Association; and former Foreign Minister Gong Ro-myung.

The Japanese side included Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Takeo Kawamura, secretary-general of the Japan-Korea Parliamentarians’ Union. Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who was originally set to participate, was unable to attend due to health issues.

A second meeting between the Korean and Japanese statesmen is scheduled to be held in Seoul in May.

BY LEE JEONG-HEON, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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