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[Editorial] Mend ties

South Korea, Japan need to make efforts to restore ties

It is a positive development that there are signs South Korea and Japan are working to restore strained relations.

The foreign ministers of both countries -- Kang Kyung-wha and Taro Kono -- are to meet on the sidelines of a ministerial conference of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development being held in Paris.

This is expected to be followed by another top-level meeting between South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and his Japanese counterpart Takeshi Iwaya, next week.

The meeting of the two defense chiefs is expected to be held during an annual regional security forum, the Shangri-La Dialogue, in Singapore. Iwaya has expressed his intention to restore defense ties and relations between the two countries. Seoul officials also confirmed that discussions are underway to set up the meeting.

These high-level talks are desirable, as relations between both countries have soured to the point that a rare military dispute heightened tension in December last year. The clash involved Tokyo’s claim that a South Korean warship had locked fire-control radar on a Japanese patrol aircraft in the East Sea. Seoul denied the allegation.

Two months before the incident, the two countries clashed over a Japanese warship’s plan to fly the Rising Sun Flag -- which its imperial military used during World War II -- at an international naval event here. Japan eventually did not participate in the event.

Seoul-Tokyo relations had already worsened following the South Korean government’s decision to revoke a 2015 agreement on wartime sexual slavery and local court rulings that ordered Japanese companies to compensate Korean victims of Japan’s forced labor during World War II.

Such historical issues may continue to hinder their efforts to fully restore ties.

For instance, the Japanese government has threatened to bring issues involving Dokdo islets and the Korean court rulings on forced labor to international tribunal and arbitration bodies like the International Court of Justice.

Most recently, the Japanese government proposed that the two countries accept the review of an arbitration panel that includes a third-country member over the issues of wartime forced labor.

This may be part of the Japan’s efforts to make an international issue of bilateral historical issues. The South Korean government is unlikely to accept the proposal, though the Foreign Ministry here said it would carefully consider it.

It will not be easy for the two countries to overcome their differences, but efforts to hold ministerial talks and tackle issues are long overdue.

Furthermore, the high-level talks are timely, as South Korea and Japan need to consolidate their military alliance with the US in handling the North Korea nuclear threat.

Amid deadlocked denuclearization talks, the North’s recent weapons tests attest to the need for the three allies to reaffirm their joint front on the North, both militarily and diplomatically. It is essential for South Korea and Japan to leave military disputes behind and improve bilateral cooperation.

Trump’s planned visit to Japan and South Korea later next month could be a good opportunity for the three allies to reiterate their commitment to unity in achieving the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea.

It is hoped that planned talks between South Korea and Japan will bear fruit and help restore ties for their mutual benefit as well as peace and stability in the region.