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Differing History Perceptions Hinder Bilateral Ties: Minister Song
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso (left) talking with South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Song Min-Soon

Song Min-Soon, South Korea's foreign affairs and trade minister, told Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso on March 31 that different perceptions over history-related issues are hindering bilateral ties.

"The issue of history perception is making it difficult to move (their nations' ties) forward," he saidd at the outset of a bilateral meeting with Aso being held on South Korea's Cheju Island.

The two ministers are meeting to discuss the North Korean nuclear standoff, a row over the demarcation of disputed waters, and other bilateral and multilateral issues.

Song compared the situation to the current cloudy weather in Cheju on Saturday and urged Aso that they resolve together the issues caused by the mistakes of the past generation for a brighter future.

Song's remark was apparently made in reference to the issue of the wartime sex slavery of foreign women including those from the Korean Peninsula by the Imperial Japanese Army.

Aso said, in response, that he hopes to have a "frank exchange of opinions on various issues between Japan and South Korea."

Their meeting, the first in South Korea and the second since Song assumed his post late last year, comes at a time when bilateral ties are improving and after the six-party talks ended last week without substantive discussion on North Korea's denuclearization. Song visited Tokyo in late December.

Aso is expected to reaffirm his cooperation with Song in following up on North Korea's commitment, made in a Feb. 13 six-party accord, to abandon its nuclear programs in exchange for energy and economic aid from the other parties, Japanese officials said.

Aso and Song are also expected to affirm that they will continue to negotiate in a dispute over the demarcation of the two countries' exclusive economic zones around a pair of South Korean-administered islets in the Sea of Japan, the officials said.

But the two are unlikely to go beyond what was discussed in a round of negotiations in Tokyo earlier this month when the two nations failed to make a breakthrough in demarcating their EEZs around the disputed islets, one of the officials said.

The sovereignty of the islets, known as Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan, is disputed by the two countries.

The two are also likely to discuss plans for a visit to Japan by South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun, eyed for later this year, the officials said.

Aso's overnight visit to South Korea forms part of reciprocal visits by Japanese and South Korean foreign ministers to pave the way for the resumption of "shuttle diplomacy" between the two nations' top leaders.

Japanese and South Korean leaders began engaging in bilateral shuttle diplomacy in July 2004, but the exchanges stopped in June 2005 due to South Korea's anger over then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to the war-related Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.

The strained ties between Tokyo and Seoul improved after Shinzo Abe replaced Koizumi and chose to visit South Korea and China in his first overseas trip last October.

Song may touch on Abe's recent remarks that there is no evidence to prove the Imperial Japanese Army forced foreign women, including women from the Korean Peninsula, into sexual slavery during World War II, but a Japanese government source believes they will not have in-depth discussions on the issue.

The South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry has expressed strong regret over Abe's March 1 remark denying that the Japanese military coerced so-called "comfort women" to work in brothels for soldiers during the war.

Song was the first member of the South Korean Cabinet to lash out at Abe for denying that there was any evidence that the women were coerced.

Aso's visit to South Korea is part of a two-nation trip from Saturday through Wednesday which also includes a visit to India. (Kyodo News)






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