U.S. sees hope for Korea-Japan ties

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U.S. sees hope for Korea-Japan ties

WASHINGTON - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stopped short of offering a personal apology for Japan’s role in World War II, but his recent 70th anniversary statement could still help improve fragile relations with South Korea, leading U.S. experts said on Tuesday.

Washington is keen for its two main allies in Asia to overcome sharp differences on historical issues that have poisoned their relationship.

While Abe did not offer a fresh apology on Friday in his heavily scrutinized statement, he upheld those of his predecessors and used terms considered contentious by Japanese nationalists, such as “aggression” and “deep remorse.”

Sheila Smith, senior fellow for Japan studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, told a seminar at the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington that the statement had bucked earlier expectations and demonstrated Abe’s diplomatic intent to improve relations with Japan’s neighbors.

But Abe made only passing reference to South Korea, which wants Tokyo to show more contrition over the plight of the Korean women forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army. Abe addressed at greater length the suffering historically faced by China.

Evans Revere, a former senior State Department official on East Asia, said Abe could have been more forward-leaning in assuaging Korean concerns but said the statement “may yet contribute in some way to an easing of tensions between Japan and Korea if both sides handle it well.”

Smith said President Park Geun-hye’s measured response and Abe’s statement provide “diplomatic wiggle room.”

Park said that Abe’s statement “left a lot to be desired” but that it was “notable’’ that it stood by the historical views of past Japanese governments.

Revere said while Washington could remind both sides of the dangers of festering relations, ultimately it would be up to the two governments to “conclude that the challenges they face and the values that they share are much more important than the terrible and tragic history that has continued to divide them.”

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