In football diplomacy, Korea beats Japan 4-3

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In football diplomacy, Korea beats Japan 4-3

Korean and Japanese lawmakers held a friendly football match in Yokohama over the weekend, just days after the first summit between the two countries’ leaders in over three years.

Some 60 middle-aged lawmakers took part in the friendly match at Keio University’s Hiyoshi Campus on Saturday, setting aside differences and determined to enjoy the game­­ - and also work on soft diplomacy.

The game, the ninth of its kind, was a follow-up to a match held in June in Seoul, the first in nine years, a symbolic effort to thaw diplomatic iciness that has resulted from tensions over history and territory issues.

The Korean team of two dozen lawmakers was led by ruling Saenuri Party Chairman Kim Moo-sung, while the Japanese side of 37 was headed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Rep. Tadamori Oshima, speaker of the Japanese Diet’s lower house.

Under Kim’s direction, the Korean players even made heart gestures with their hands toward the Japanese team before the match started.

The game ended in a Korean victory of four to three.

Rep. Hwang Young-cheul made two goals and was selected as the most valuable player.

Saenuri Chairman Kim pointed out, “We are not here just to play football but to do politics.”

Seishiro Eto, an LDP lawmaker who heads Japan’s parliamentary group promoting soccer diplomacy, said, “This has become an opportunity to improve relations between Korea and Japan. We will request China to participate next year, and we hope to realize a three-country match among the lawmakers of Korea, China and Japan.”

The match came just five days after the first bilateral leaders’ summit between Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Seoul on Nov. 2.

On the Korean team of 24 assemblymen, there was only one player from the main opposition party, the New Politics Alliance for Democracy lawmaker, Rep. Kim Seung-nam.

Other opposition party lawmakers including NPAD floor leader Lee Jong-kul stayed away because of the dispute with the ruling party over state-authored textbooks.

The friendly match in June at World Cup Stadium in Sangam-dong, western Seoul, came as the two countries’ marked the 50th anniversary of the normalization of bilateral ties, led to a Korean victory of eight to four.

The first football match between Seoul and Tokyo lawmakers was held in 1998 and regularly held until 2006, when territorial issues and historical issues including that of the Japanese military’s wartime sexual slavery, led to soured bilateral relations.

To date, Korea has won six matches, lost twice and tied once.

At a meeting with Korean-Japanese ahead of the match in Tokyo, Kim said, “I hope the comfort women issue, as an issue of women’s human rights, can be resolved completely through an apology from the perpetrators.”

He was referring to the issue of the Japanese military’s forced recruitment of women into sexual slavery during World War II.

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