Japan, S. Korea vow to improve ties, Seoul touches on history issue

Japan and South Korea agreed Monday to repair bilateral relations that have been strained over controversial remarks by Japanese politicians about wartime history and a dispute over a pair of islets in the Sea of Japan, which are controlled by Seoul and claimed by Tokyo.

"I believe this meeting provided the start for building multilayered, future-oriented Japan-South Korea relations," Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters after his first face-to-face talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se on the sidelines of a regional security forum in Brunei.

It was the first time in nine months that the foreign ministers of the two countries have held talks.

In an apparent reference to remarks earlier this year by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto regarding Japan's wartime military brothels and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's statement that the definition of "aggression" has yet to be fixed, Yun expressed concern about the issue of Japan's perception of history.

"If (Japan) fails to carefully deal with the history issue, it will hurt the soul of the (Korean) people," Yun said at the outset of the meeting, which was open to the media.

Yun was quoted by a South Korean official as telling Kishida that Japan must hold an "accurate perception of history" if the two sides are to ensure stability and develop their relations.

Kishida explained Japan's position that in the past it had caused tremendous damage and suffering in many countries, particularly Asian nations, and that consecutive Japanese governments -- including the Abe Cabinet -- have humbly acknowledged such historical facts, expressed deep remorse and genuine apologies.

Kishida told Yun that it is important for Japan to gain South Korea's understanding of its position and win trust to advance bilateral relations, which they reaffirmed are "very important."

"We would like (South Korea) to accept (Japan's) perception and position (on history)" so the two sides can manage Japan-South Korea ties in a smooth fashion, he said.

Kishida quoted Yun as telling him that South Korea wants to continue communication with Japan and build trust with the country.

According to a Japanese official, Kishida told Yun that despite difficult issues between the two countries, such as perceptions of history and the disputed islets known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea, Japan wants to manage relations from a broader perspective.

Kishida expressed readiness to advance cooperation with South Korea in various areas such as trade and investment as well as security. Yun threw his support behind the proposals, the official said.

The foreign ministers agreed that it is important for the two countries to promote communication at high levels on various issues, but they did not go as far as directly referring to the holding of a summit between Abe and South Korean President Park Geun Hye in the near future.

In April, Yun canceled his planned trip to Japan in protest at visits by Japanese Cabinet ministers to Yasukuni Shrine. The Tokyo shrine honors Japan's war dead, including several Class-A war criminals, and is viewed by China and South Korea as a symbol of Japanese militarism.

The differences over history and simmering tensions between Japan and China over the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea led to the suspension of a trilateral summit involving Japan, China and South Korea that had been scheduled for late May.

Kishida and Yun met on the sidelines of a series of meetings involving the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and its dialogue partners.