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S. Korea, Japan Discuss N. Korea Nuclear Threat Amid Tensions

  • Brian Padden

FILE - North Korea's mock Scud-B missile, center, and other South Korean missiles are on display at Korea's War Memorial Museum in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 26, 2014.

FILE - North Korea's mock Scud-B missile, center, and other South Korean missiles are on display at Korea's War Memorial Museum in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 26, 2014.

Despite strained relations over territorial disagreements and historical disputes, South Korea and Japan will resume security talks this week. These talks are not so much a sign the two neighbors are resolving longstanding differences but instead a recognition that they need to work together to curb the growing nuclear threat from North Korea.

The meeting between senior foreign ministry and defense ministry officials will be the first high-level security dialogue to take place between Japan and South Korea in more than five years.

Intelligence sharing

Baek Seung-joo, the South Korean Vice Minister of National Defense said the talks they are hosting will focus specifically on improving intelligence sharing to assess and contain the increasing number of North Korean missile tests and the development of its nuclear weapons program.

He said South Korea and Japan basically share and maintain political values and national interests. With regards to security in Northeast Asia, he said what threatens the security and stability of Northeast Asia is North Korea’s nuclear development and its challenging and adventurous military policy.

But this bilateral security meeting as well as a recent trilateral meeting involving the foreign ministers of South Korea, China and Japan does not mean Seoul and Tokyo are any closer to resolving their differences.

Relations have grown tense between these two major U.S. allies in Asia over sovereignty and history.

Both countries hold claims to a set of islands, called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese, that are controlled by South Korea.

Just last week an announcement that new Japanese school textbooks assigned ownership of the islands to Japan without any context to the wider territorial dispute triggered a new round of anger in Seoul.

Ongoing protests

But the real anti-Japan sentiment in Seoul is over what many Koreans perceive as efforts by Prime Minister’s Shinzo Abe and his allies to downplay atrocities committed during Japan's colonial rule over the Korean peninsula from 1910 until the end of World War II in 1945. Ongoing protests by survivors and supporters of the estimated 200,000 women in Asia who were forced to work as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during the war have helped intensify national outrage.

Abe's controversial visit to a World War II shrine that includes war criminals, and comments by Japanese nationalists that claim comfort women participated voluntarily in prostitution have only made matters worse.

Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said his government wants to work out differences with South Korea through dialogue.

He said they consider South Korea as the most valuable neighboring country for Japan, and hope to build a multi-level, future-oriented, bilateral relationship in a broader perspective by patiently working to develop such a relationship.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye has refused to formally meet one-on-one with Prime Minister Abe until he issues an acceptable apology and restitution for the victims.

The South Korean Vice Minister of National Defense said he meets regularly with his Japanese counterparts about the North Korean threat only. He said bilateral relations cannot improve until Japan makes amends.

He said if the Japanese government shows the right attitude and right understanding, neighboring countries may recover from this trauma, and eventually this will help Japanese government, people and its future.

There are expectations that Prime Minister Abe will speak to these issues when he visits Washington and addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress later this month.

VOA Seoul Producer Youmi Kim contributed to this report.