Olive branch extended from Japan

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Olive branch extended from Japan

Japan’s defense minister said Saturday he’s looking forward to meeting his South Korean counterpart to help repair bilateral ties at the upcoming Shangri-La Dialogue.

The Shangri-La Dialogue, organized annually in Singapore by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, is a meeting of defense ministers from Asia and other regional powers, such as the United States, to discuss the latest defense and security challenges.

This year’s event is slated for May 31 through June 2.

Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said during a government meeting in the southern Japanese prefecture of Oita on Saturday that he was arranging a meeting with South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo on the sidelines of the Asian security meeting.

The last time Iwaya and Jeong met in person was Oct. 22, before a number of developments brought bilateral relations to new lows.

Last October and December, South Korea’s Supreme Court ordered two Japanese companies to compensate Korean victims of forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945, provoking criticism from the Japanese government and its prime minister, Shinzo Abe.

While mentioning North Korea’s recent missile provocations, Iwaya stressed it was pertinent for the United States, South Korea and Japan to cooperate on defense. If Seoul and Tokyo do not build trust, then a situation can spiral out of control.

“A dispute mustn’t grow at all costs,” he said. “And that’s why I will do my best [to improve] defense diplomacy.”

It wasn’t the first time Iwaya expressed hopes to improve ties with South Korea during the upcoming security meeting. On May 10, he said it was crucial for the United States, South Korea and Japan to strengthen cooperation for the North Korean nuclear issue while mentioning a possible meeting with South Korean Defense Minister Jeong.

Ties between Seoul and Tokyo may not return to normal instantly, Iwaya said, but he and Jeong could have positive and constructive discussions.

Tokyo has protested the South Korean Supreme Court rulings calling for compensation of forced laborers, claiming that a 1965 treaty normalizing bilateral relations with Seoul, which provided the Korean government with an economic cooperation fund, settled all compensation matters.

Korea’s top court, however, ruled that the Japanese government failed to acknowledge the illegality of its colonial rule and that the victims’ rights to individual compensation have not expired.

BY YOON SEOL-YOUNG AND LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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