Japan, South Korea in push to overcome war tensions

Concerns over China and North Korea cause Asians neighbours to mend sometimes stormy relations on 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties

Japanese tenor  Tatsuya Higuchi and South Korean soprano  Sumi Jo perform as part of a gala concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of Japan and South Korea’s resumption of normal ties,  in Tokyo on June 22nd. Photograph: Reuters/Shizuo Kambayashi/Pool

Japanese tenor Tatsuya Higuchi and South Korean soprano Sumi Jo perform as part of a gala concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of Japan and South Korea’s resumption of normal ties, in Tokyo on June 22nd. Photograph: Reuters/Shizuo Kambayashi/Pool

 

South Korea and Japan marked the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties on Monday with a push to mend relations strained by feuds over the legacy of Japan’s wartime past.

The two governments are also working towards their first leaders’ meeting in three years, hoping to move past tension that has complicated efforts to improve security co-operation in the face of an unpredictable North Korea and an assertive China.

Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, attended a reception hosted by the South Korean embassy in Tokyo, while South Korea’s president, Park Geun-hye, was to attend a ceremony hosted by the Japanese embassy in Seoul and attended by the US ambassador.

Until Sunday, the two leaders had been expected only to send messages.

“Let us build a new era for our two countries together, while looking back at the 50 years of history of friendship and development and looking forward at the next 50 years,” Mr Abe said at the reception, where guests were serenaded with traditional Japanese and Korean music.

“For that, I would like to join forces with president Park Geun-hye and work together.”

Fresh start

“As we seek to do so,” he said, “what is important is to ensure that circumstances are put in place that allow us to free ourselves of the heavy burden of history, our single greatest impediment, in the spirit of reconciliation and harmony.”

Mr Park has not held bilateral talks with his Japanese counterpart since taking office in February 2013, two months after Mr Abe became prime minister.

Feuds over wartime history, as well as a row over tiny islands claimed by both countries, still fester.

South Korea says Japan has not atoned properly for its second World War conduct, including its role in forcing women, many of them Korean, into prostitution in military brothels.

Comfort women

On Monday, descendants of Koreans conscripted into the Japanese imperial army or recruited for forced labour under Japanese colonial rule protested outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul, demanding compensation and recognition.

In Tokyo, right-wing Japanese activists in trucks with loudspeakers circled the Korea Centre amid heavy policing, shouting slogans such as “Cut ties with South Korea.”

– (Reuters)