South Korea and Japan marked the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties on Monday with a push to mend relations strained by a territorial dispute and a feud over Japan’s wartime past.
The sometimes uneasy East Asia neighbours are also working towards their first leaders’ meeting in three years.
On Monday, South Korean President Park Geun-hye will attend a ceremony hosted by the Japanese embassy in Seoul and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will take part in a reception at the South Korean embassy in Tokyo.
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“For the peoples in both countries and for the next generation, I would like to work with President Park to improve relations further, with eyes set on the next half century,” Abe told South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, who paid a courtesy call on the Japanese leader on Monday.
Park and Abe have not held bilateral talks since taking office. A statement from Park’s office said their attendance at the two receptions was expected to contribute to the development of bilateral ties.
Relations between Japan and South Korea have complicated efforts to boost security cooperation between two of the United States’ main Asian allies as the region copes with an unpredictable North Korea and an assertive China.
South Korea’s Yun met his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida, on Sunday, the first such visit in four years.
Yun’s ministry later said the pair welcomed a series of recent exchanges, including high-level officials’ meetings in trade and defence cooperation, and that they hoped for progress towards a summit.
Japan and South Korea have not held such a meeting since 2012, when Park and Abe’s predecessors met in Beijing on the sidelines of a three-way meeting with the Chinese premier. That meeting came as they fueded over disputed islands and Japan’s colonisation of Korea.
South Korea says Japan has not atoned properly for its conduct during World War Two, including its role in forcing women, many of them Korean, into prostitution in military brothels.
Japan apologised to the women, euphemistically called “comfort women”, in a landmark 1993 statement that also acknowledged the role of authorities in coercing them. It also says the matter of compensation for comfort women has already been settled.