Japan, S.Korea ties improving but tensions stay
Relations between Japan and South Korea, strained by feuds over Tokyo's wartime past and rival claims to two islands, are improving though differences persist, the foreign ministers of the two nations said on Friday.
After talks that also touched on North Korea's nuclear arms programmes, Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura said he had agreed with his South Korean counterpart, Ban Ki-moon, that ties between the neighbours were on the mend.
"There was agreement on the basic recognition that Japan-South Korea relations were headed in a good direction after a temporary period of tension," Machimura told reporters.
The two met on the sidelines of an Asia-Europe gathering in Japan's ancient capital of Kyoto.
Machimura said he and Ban had agreed that a leaders' summit would be held in Seoul in late June but admitted the two sides were still at odds over the islets known as Takeshima in Japan and Tokto in South Korea.
"On the issue of Takeshima, there are differences in the basic thinking. But we should deal with this issue in a calm manner in any case," he said.
Resentment of Japan's often brutal 1910-1945 colonisation of the Korean peninsula runs deep in South Korea, and many there see Tokyo's claims to the two islands as at an attempt to justify its wartime past.
South Korean Foreign Ministry official Park Joon-woo told reporters that the Ban-Machimura meeting was "not tense as it was in Islamabad" in April, where Ban harshly criticised Japan's stance on the islands and its approval of textbooks that critics say whitewashes Tokyo's wartime atrocities.
Park said the ministers had a serious exchange of views but added Ban had urged Japan to take "thoughtful actions in the spirit that the party who committed the wrong should make it right."
"It is our position that, without Japan's sincere action (on the issue of history), it would be difficult to improve our relationship," Park added.
The bilateral relationship deteriorated after a local Japanese assembly began debating in February a symbolic bylaw stressing Tokyo's claim to Takeshima/Tokto.
In March, the prefectural assembly of Shimane in western Japan adopted the local law designating Feb. 22 as "Takeshima Day", sparking South Korean protests.
South Koreans, like many Chinese, were also angered by Japan's approval in April of a new edition of a history textbook by nationalist scholars.
Machimura said that Ban viewed positively Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's public apology for suffering caused by Japan's military aggression at an Asia-Africa conference late last month in Jakarta.
Earlier on Friday, however, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun told visiting Japanese legislators that Japan needed to match its apologies with action.
"The Japanese government and the forces leading Japan's politics have taken several actions that have nullified the apology they made before and have been in contrast with the intention of regret and apology," Roh said in Seoul.
"Recently, the two countries' relationship has hit the rocks because of the issues of Tokto and history textbooks raised by Japan.
"Unless we remove these rocks, the two countries' relationship is bound to hit a snag again," Roh said.