Ambassadors to the United States from Japan and South Korea say they hope their recent cooperation will help improve relations between two of the most important American allies in Asia.
UNESCO has recently approved Japan’s application to list some old industrial facilities in Japan as U.N. World Heritage Sites, after Tokyo agreed to Seoul’s demand that, while implementing the U.N.’s decision, Japan must acknowledge that South Koreans were forced to work at some of these sites during the 1940s. The two countries had conducted many rounds of negotiations before reaching an agreement.
Kenichiro Sasae, Japan's ambassador to the U.S., expressed satisfaction with the cooperation between Seoul and Tokyo in resolving differences over the wartime issue.
“I am very much happy and satisfied to see that, despite some of the difficulties each country has domestically, the Foreign Ministry and the government, the whole government of both countries, could deliver and make an agreement,” Sasae said.
At the same event hosted by the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank, South Korean Ambassador Ho-Young Ahn shared the stage with Sasae and made similar comments.
“On this good moment which has been created on the occasion of 50th anniversary of normalization between Korea and Japan, we should in fact apply this spirit of agreement to all issues we have,” Ahn said.
The United States is keen to see its two closest allies in Asia resolve historical issues so the three countries can effectively deal with present, serious security challenges in the region, as expressed by Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint.
“We can only do that with the help of strong and true friends, economic partners and allies,” DeMint said. “There are no better examples than that of the Republic of Korea and Japan.”
DeMint noted that Sung Kim, who serves as U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Japan and Korea and as U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, also joined the Japanese and Korean ambassadors in the dialogue on trilateral relations and regional security issues.
“Our three guests today exemplify the spirit of those friendships and importance of diplomacy,” DeMint said.
The United States, South Korea and Japan recently concluded what officials called a “productive and substantive” security meeting in Washington aimed at enhancing trilateral defense cooperation in light of the evolving security environment in the region. At the same time, top defense and security officials from South Korea and Japan also met for the first high-level security talks in more than five years. The meeting was hailed as an important thaw in bilateral relations.
However, independent security scholar Stanley Kober, a former research fellow in foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, another Washington think tank, told VOA that it would be a big challenge for Japan and South Korea to resolve the difficult issues between them.
The historical issues would be problems “in their reconciliation and in moving together,” Kober said.
He said Japan and South Korea may collaborate on occasions, such as the deal they reached on the U.N. World Heritage Sites, but he did not see that as creating a pattern for their long-term relations.
Relations between the two Northeast Asian neighbors continue to be largely divided over contentious wartime and territorial issues. South Korea remains unconvinced of Japanese remorsefulness for atrocities and wartime brutality committed on the Korean peninsula during World War II, including the use of Koreans as so-called “comfort women,” or sex slaves.
Japan and South Korea are additionally mired in a territorial dispute over the sovereignty of the Liancourt Rocks ("Dokdo" in Korean and "Takeshima" in Japanese), a group of small islets in the Sea of Japan.