Seoul, Tokyo fail to make progress in strained relations

By 정주원
  • Published : Mar 12, 2014 - 20:53
  • Updated : Mar 12, 2014 - 20:53
South Korea and Japan held vice ministerial level talks on Wednesday to discuss their strained relations, but not much progress was made despite hopes for a diplomatic thaw, a government official here said.

In the meeting between South Korea's newly named Vice Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yong and his Japanese counterpart Akitaka Saiki, the officials only reiterated their previous stances, the foreign affairs official said.

The Seoul-Tokyo high-level talks, the first of their kind since Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's much-denounced visit to the controversial Yasukuni war shrine last December, had drawn hopes that they would come up with a possible breakthrough in their strained relations as well as a plan for a long-delayed summit meeting between their state leaders.

"Cho stressed that Japan should refrain from revisionist behavior under a correct perception of history and respond sincerely to the unsettled issue of (Japanese imperialist soldiers') past sexual enslavement of South Korean women in order for the South Korea-Japan relations to develop stably," the official said.

The Japanese vice minister said that the government will maintain Japan's previous admission and apology regarding the country's imperialistic atrocities during its colonial control of the Korean Peninsula from 1910-1945, he noted.

The vice ministers, however, did not go deeply into a plan for summit talks between President Park Geun-hye and Abe, nor were any concrete agreements made, according to the official.

The possibility for opening the door for the much-delayed summit had been much discussed as the Wednesday talks come as tension has been running high between the neighbors.

South Korean President Park has yet to meet one-on-one with her Japanese counterpart since her inauguration in February 2013.

"It is an occasion to test whether South Korea-Japan relations would work out in the future," Cho told reports before the talks were held in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' headquarters in central Seoul.

Talks between high-level officials from Seoul and Tokyo came to a halt after Abe's visit to the shrine, which is deemed in South Korea as a symbol of Japan's imperialistic wrongdoings in the early 20th century.

Abe's move in December severely worsened already frayed South Korea-Japan relations over issues stemming from Japan's colonial control.

Japan's renewed territorial claims to Dokdo, South Korea's easternmost islets, and repeated attempts to deny its wartime atrocities, including its sexual enslavement of Korean women, have been the major causes of strained ties with South Korea, a major victim of Japan's past imperialism.

Seoul has continuously called on Japan to take sincere action to resolve issues related to their shared history if it wants to improve their bilateral relations.

The U.S. reportedly has also pressed Japan to scrap its nationalist steps for fears that worsening Seoul-Tokyo ties may impair their trilateral military partnership in the region, a crucial part of its "pivot to Asia" foreign policy.

A Japanese news report had said earlier that Saiki may suggest a trilateral summit among leaders in Seoul, Washington and Tokyo on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit slated for late March in the Hague.

Touching on the possibility of the summit, Cho said before the talks that "The correct perception of history should be the foundation of the bilateral relations," adding that the summit would happen when that foundation has been laid. (Yonhap)