South Korea and Japan on Wednesday vowed to work closely together on North Korea ahead of the looming inter-Korea summit, but their foreign ministers remained divided over long-standing issues of Japan’s wartime crimes and disputed islands.
Japanese foreign minister Taro Kono made a rare visit to Seoul armed with a list of issues Tokyo wants to push onto the agenda of the April 27 summit between North and South Korea.
At a time of frenetic diplomatic activity in northeast Asia – the North’s Kim Jong Un is due to meet with the leaders of both South Korea and the US — Japan has largely remained on the sidelines.
Tokyo has found itself forced to rely on the US and South Korea to tackle its concerns regarding the North, which last year test-fired several missiles that flew over Japan, sparking security fears.
Kono and his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-wha vowed “close communication and cooperation” to disarm the North and build peace on the flashpoint peninsula, Seoul’s foreign ministry said after their meeting in Seoul.
The Japanese envoy also met with President Moon Jae-in, who said working together on North Korea was “more important than ever” ahead of the summits, the South’s Yonhap agency reported.
It was the first visit to South Korea by a Japanese foreign minister in more than two years.
“Kono expressed Japan’s stance on ‘comfort women’ and Dokdo, and Kang explained our stance over ‘comfort women’ and made clear that the South cannot accept any argument by Japan over Dokdo,” the ministry said in a statement.
Moon said last month that Japan cannot unilaterally declare the wartime issue “over,” while Japan says any attempt to modify or scrap the deal, signed by Moon’s predecessor Park Geun-Hye, and could hurt relations.
Kono, before the Seoul visit, also said he would try to ensure that the “abduction issue will be talked about in the North-South summit”, as well as Pyongyang’s “nuclear and missile issues”.
He was referring to Japanese citizens abducted by the North’s agents in the 1970s and 80s in a bid to train spies in Japanese language and customs before overseas missions.
But a statement on the meeting from Seoul’s foreign ministry did not mention the topic — a key issue in ties between Japan and the North, which habitually spats out angry threats of attack against “Japanese reactionaries.