Seoul mayor meets Japanese civic group

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Seoul mayor meets Japanese civic group


Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, third from left, and Hope Alliance Japan’s President Takashi Shiraishi, second from left, agree to boost cooperation among civic groups in Japan and Korea in a meeting at the Seoul City Hall on Wednesday. [NEWS1]

Japanese and Korean civic groups must stand together especially in times of critical bilateral tension, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said in a meeting with Japanese civic group, Hope Alliance Japan, on Wednesday.

“All these years the civic groups in Japan have worked together with Korea to try to resolve the issues in bilateral relations including the history textbook controversy and wartime sexual slavery and forced labor,” he told a group of members of Hope Alliance Japan including its president, Takashi Shiraishi.

“I agree with Shiraishi’s point that we should not be trapped in the scheme to pitch the people of Korea and Japan against each other.”

Park was speaking in response to propositions made by the civic group.

“The Shinzo Abe government is encouraging anti-Korean sentiment in Japan and working with ultra conservative groups in Korea to attack the Moon Jae-in government,” Shiraishi said.

“It is a scheme by the Abe government to try to turn the public’s attention away from domestic problems such as the rise in consumption tax and pension issues.”

“But the Korean people have realized this scheme and have turned their anti-Japan rallies into anti-Abe rallies. What is required now of the Japanese civic society today is for us to correct Abe’s policies and strengthen the Korea-Japan alliance among civic groups.”

Shiraishi said that Hope Alliance Japan and eight other civic groups held a press conference on Aug. 8 to protest the trade restrictions levied by the Japanese government on exports to Korea.

Japan excluded Korea from its so-called white list of trusted trading partners earlier this month, in apparent retaliation to the rulings by the Korean Supreme Court last year on forced laborers.

Japan annexed Korea from 1910 to 1945 during which at least 148,961 people were forced into labor in Japan, according to Korea’s prime minister’s office. The office projected that around 5,000 of the victims are still alive as of last year.

Some of the victims have sued Japanese firms for compensation.

The Supreme Court ruled last year that two Japanese companies must pay damages for Koreans’ forced labor during World War II. Japan maintains that a 1965 accord normalizing relations with Seoul, which provided an economic cooperation fund, settled all compensation matters.

“We must come to terms with the fact that Japan invaded Korea in 1910 and that the Korean Supreme Court’s decision does not violate the Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea [that normalized bilateral relations in 1965],” Shiraishi said. “We have to get the Japanese people to come to terms with the facts.”

The meeting at the city hall in Seoul on Wednesday was joined by Rep. Makoto Yamazaki of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.

“The Abe government is pushing forward its own propaganda in Japan by working with media groups in support of its scheme, and they are influencing public opinion in Japan,” said Yamazaki in a written statement to Mayor Park.

“We believe that it is our task to help the Japanese people confront the country’s history of invasions and help them face past wrongs together so that the people of Korea and Japan can build firm and friendly relations.”

Civic groups in Korea and Japan have held rallies to protest the Abe government’s trade restrictions on Korea. Some 750 Korean and Japanese civic groups organized an anti-Abe rally in Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul on Aug. 15, the Liberation Day of Korea.

“It was apparent that the Korean people were criticizing the Japanese government, not the Japanese people,” said Shiori Takata, a 20-year-old from Japan who attended the rally.

“Even when the rally goers found out that I was Japanese, I did not feel threatened. I think it was because they were clear in targeting the rally on the Abe government.”

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