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Japan to return ancient books upon P.M. visit

Japan is expected to return part of the Korean royal archives it took during its decades-long colonial rule during Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s visit to Seoul this week, according to officials here.

Noda, who will arrive in Seoul on Tuesday, is expected to discuss the return of the ancient books, the Dokdo islets, North Korea’s nuclear program and a free trade pact during his summit talks with President Lee Myung-bak the following day, Seoul officials said. It is to be Noda’s first official trip to Seoul since he took office in August.

Shinsuke Sugiyama, director-general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Asian affairs bureau, told his South Korean counterpart last week that his government plans to return the books on the occasion of the summit.

The archives are a portion of the 1,205 ancient artifacts Tokyo agreed to return in November last year for improved ties with South Korea. The Japanese government has completed its required domestic legal process to return the books by Dec. 10 of this year at the latest, officials say.

The books include texts of royal protocols, known as “Uigwe,” of Korea’s ancient Joseon Dynasty, all of which are being kept by the Imperial Household Agency in Tokyo.

Tokyo has for years glorified its wartime past in textbooks and refused to formally make amends for the Korean women who fell victim to its sexual slavery during World War II.

Korea has hundreds of thousands of cultural assets scattered around the world due to the Korean War and Japan’s colonial rule.

More than 760,000 ancient books, documents, craftworks and other forms of cultural asset are believed to be scattered across about 20 different countries, with most of them in Japan.

During their talks Wednesday, Lee and Noda will also address tense issues, including Seoul’s proposal last month to discuss a proper apology and compensation for the women who were forced into sexual slavery and Tokyo’s repeated territorial claims over the Korean islets of Dokdo, officials say.

Japan refuses to discuss compensation of the enslaved Korean women, claiming the issue has been wholly settled under a 1965 bilateral pact.

At least 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, were forced into sexual slavery during World War II, according to historians.

While acknowledging the past, the Tokyo government has refused for decades to compensate the victims directly, claiming it solved the issue through a treaty with Seoul in 1965, under which the Korean government received $800 million.

Critics here suspect that Japan is returning some of the books upon Noda’s visit to deflect further pressure and criticism over the issue of wartime sexual slavery.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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