Korea, Japan top envoys try to mend relations
The two focused on “future-oriented” issues, according to the countries' foreign ministries.
“Both sides share the view that now the international order is threatened […] and that Japan-ROK and Japan-U.S.-ROK strategic collaboration is necessary,” said Tsukamoto Yasuhiro, an assistant press secretary for Japan's foreign ministry, in a press briefing on Monday, using the acronym for the full name of South Korea, the Republic of Korea.
“We cannot wait any longer for improvement in Japan-ROK relations,” he said.
In its statement on Monday, Korea’s Foreign Ministry said both sides shared the view that “prompt improvement of Korea-Japan relations is essential” in light of the recent developments including the war in Ukraine, adding that there was a consensus on the need to strengthen bilateral ties as well as trilateral cooperation with Washington.
Hayashi visited Seoul to attend Yoon Suk-yeol's inauguration on Tuesday.
The last foreign minister from Japan to visit Korea was Taro Kono, who came in 2018 for a trilateral ministerial meeting in Seoul.
Bilateral ties have dipped to a low in recent years over diplomatic disputes, trade spats and even threats to end a bilateral military intelligence-sharing pact signed in 2012 and renewed annually.
Park and Hayashi touched upon some of these issues, including the controversial issue of compensation for Korean victims of Japanese wartime sexual slavery and forced labor, according to Japan's foreign ministry.
Japan insists that these issues, stemming from the 1910-1945 Japanese colonization of Korea, were resolved with a 1965 treaty normalizing relations.
“Foreign Minister Hayashi stated that based on friendly and cooperative relationship since 1965, the normalization of diplomatic relations, we should develop further the relationship,” said Tsukamoto. “For that point, it is necessary to solve the issues between Japan and South Korea including labor issues.”
On the issue of Korean victims of sexual slavery, euphemistically referred to as “comfort women,” the two “shared the view that the situation should not be worsened,” Tsukamoto said.
Under the Park Geun-hye and Shinzo Abe administrations, Seoul and Tokyo attempted to resolve the wartime slavery issue in a deal signed on Dec. 28, 2015, which included an apology by the Japanese government and a 1-billion-yen ($7.7 million) fund for the victims. The agreement provoked an immediate backlash from some survivors and civic groups, who claimed Japan should take clearer legal responsibility.
President Yoon has stressed “future oriented” relations with Japan and vowed to improve ties with its eastern neighbor, including through trilateral cooperation involving Washington.
Yoon said on the campaign trail that he’d like to meet with the Japanese prime minister after he meets the American president. Yoon is scheduled to meet with Joe Biden on May 21 in Seoul.
Neither foreign ministry could provide comments on the possibility of a Korea-Japan summit, the last of which was held in December 2019 in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, on the sidelines of a Beijing-Seoul-Japan summit. But Hayashi invited Park to visit Toyko “at the right time,” according to Korea’s Foreign Ministry.
BY ESTHER CHUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]