Yun examines Seoul-Tokyo relations

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Yun examines Seoul-Tokyo relations

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Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se gives a keynote speech at a debate hosted by the Kwanhun Club on Thursday morning at the Korea Press Center in Jung District, central Seoul. By Park Jong-keun

After a group of Japanese industrial sites were recognized Sunday as Unesco World Heritage Sites, Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se expressed his pleasure with the decision given Tokyo’s acknowledgement that Koreans were forced into labor under harsh conditions in some of these locations during the 1940s.

Japan’s admission is significant considering that its Unesco application for the Meiji Era industrial facilities was one of a number of diplomatic and historical issues that have kept President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe from meeting for formal talks since either took office.

“In Korea-Japan relations, [this issue] was one of the most difficult negotiations, but it also exemplified a dilemma well resolved through dialogue,” Yun said.

During a debate Thursday morning at the Korea Press Center in Jung District, central Seoul, Yun had an extended opportunity to share his views on Korea-Japan relations and offered insight into other key diplomatic relationships and maneuvers going forward.

“Lately, positive conditions for improving Korea-Japan relations seem to be working out on their own,” Yun observed during the event, which was hosted by the Kwanhun Club, the oldest national organization representing more than 1,000 senior journalists nationwide.

“For the last 20 years, each presidential administration has always begun with great efforts to improve Korea-Japan relations. Halfway through each administration however, tensions arose due to the poor management of critical elements within the relationship, which ends up disintegrating by the end of an administration’s tenure.

“This pattern has always repeated … but the current administration has vowed not to repeat this trial-and-error routine and, on that basis, has adopted the more realistic goal of achieving stable developments in Korea-Japan relations,” he continued.

The foreign minister did consider that relations between Seoul and Tokyo may be affected by the extent to which Abe will address or potentially apologize for Japan’s wartime aggressions in an upcoming statement in August marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II ? and, in particular, acknowledge the thousands of women forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during the war.

During the debate, Yun also discussed Korea’s other diplomatic relations and future goals. He deemed President Park’s visit to the United States as the most important diplomatic agenda for the second half of this year, and examined the regional impact and interplay of Korea-U.S. relations.

Park was scheduled to visit Washington from June 14 to 18, but the trip was delayed due to the outbreak here of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

“There’s a notion that Korea-U.S. relations and Korea-China relations are zero-sum, but U.S. President Barack Obama has said that he also believes mutual coexistence is possible, so we’re working to make that happen.

“We’ve made it possible for Korea-U.S. relations and Korea-China relations to be at their very best. There aren’t many countries worldwide that have kept up positive relations with both the United States and China. These [two countries] are very important diplomatic assets,” Yun said.

In addition to President Park’s visit to the United States, Yun also revealed efforts for a trilateral summit later this year with Korea, China and Japan.

“Given the regional tensions in Northeast Asia, and for the sake of improvement in trilateral relations, focused core tasks will completely restore the cooperative framework for Korea, China and Japan,” the foreign minister said. “At an appropriate time in the latter half of this year, we plan on working toward holding a summit for the three countries.”

Moderating Thursday’s debate was Lee Seon-geun, the manager of the Kwanhun Club and CEO of Yonhap Infomax. Debate panelists included Kim Eui-kyum, senior staff writer for the Hankyoreh; Kim Hee-june, who works on the senior political desk for cable news network YTN; and Park Seung-hee, political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

BY AHN HYO-SUNG [enational@joongang.co.kr]

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