Japan, S. Korean foreign ministers to meet in Tokyo

Updated: 2015-06-18 09:48


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TOKYO - The foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea will hold talks in Tokyo from Sunday aimed at looking into ways to improve relations as the two countries observe the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties, Japan's foreign ministry said Wednesday.

According to the ministry here, Japan's foreign minister Fumio Kishida will meet his South Korean counterpart Yun Byung-se on the first day of his trip and the pair will attend an anniversary event hosted by the South Korean Embassy in Tokyo.

Yun's visit marks the first time a foreign minister has visited Japan since President Park Geun-hye took office in February 2013 and the first from a senior government official since 2011, as ties have soured between Tokyo and Seoul due to an ongoing territorial dispute and different perceptions of history.

Having held talks in Seoul in March, it is thought that Kishida and Yun, as well as discussing ways the two nations can forge better ties with each other, will also peruse the possibility of Park and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe holding their first one-to-one summit, as well as other senior government officials also holding diplomatic talks.

Abe and Park have not held official talks since Abe assumed office in 2012 and Park in 2013, as ties between the two countries became strained over territorial issues, and Japan's abuses committed during World War II that have yet to be resolved, including the thorny comfort women, or sex slaves issue.

Other issues of contention are also likely to be discussed between the two foreign ministers, including Japan's plans to list some of its wartime historical sites with UNESCO, as World Heritage sites. Japan is eyeing having 23 industrial sites of Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution, spanning facilities used in both the 19th and 20th century, listed, although the move has been slammed by South Korea as a "distortion of history."

Japan's Cultural Affairs Agency, which falls under the auspices of the Japanese Ministry of Education and backed by the foreign ministry, intends to list industrial sites including coal mines, shipyards and steel mills, which date back as far as the 1850s, as UN world heritage sites, claiming their "historic value."

Japan believes the historic sites are evidence of the nation's industrial modernization and progress and is angling for UNESCO to list the sites for their relevance to Japan's industrial development in their use prior to World War II.

But the move has angered South Korea and drawn harsh condemnation from its foreign ministry, as the 23 sites were used as forced labor camps where around 60,000 Koreans were held captive and forced into hard labor during Japan's colonization of the Korean Peninsula, with the severity of work causing the deaths of 94 workers at the sites.

South Korea has urged Japan to fully admit its use of Koreans as forced laborers during its brutal military occupation and divulge the sites connections to the wartime labor camps.

Japan is disputing the dates of the sites with South Korea and asking for its neighbor to not politicize the issue, much to South Korea's consternation.

Historical wrangling aside, issues pertaining to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) will also be discussed, the ministry here also confirmed.

At the event to commemorate half a century of normalized diplomatic ties, senior government personnel will read out messages from both Abe and Park, although sources close to the prime minister's office here have suggested that Abe may attend the event in person.

The prime minister's decision, the sources say, will be based on whether his opposite number will attend a reciprocal event on Monday hosted by the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, at which former Finance Minister Fukushiro Nukaga will be in attendance.