Japan, S. Korea agree to strengthen ties

Shingo Ito,TOKYO, AFP

The leaders of Japan and South Korea on Monday pledged to boost their ties to “a new level” after successfully co-hosting the 2002 soccer World Cup.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung also stressed the need for a calm stance over an inter-Korean naval clash at the weekend that left four South Koreans dead, an official said.

The leaders of the World Cup co-hosts met in Tokyo a day after they watched Sunday’s final — the first staged in Asia — in Yokohama, southwest of the capital.

“The success (of the tournament) is our precious treasure in helping us boost Japan-South Korean relations much more,” Koizumi and Kim said in a joint statement after the talks.

“The governments and the people of both countries must unify wisdom to further develop bilateral relations,” they said.

“Taking this World Cup opportunity, the two leaders expressed their determination to bring the Japan-South Korean relations to a new level,” a Japanese Foreign Ministry official added.

Remarkably, the South Korean leader did not mention in the meeting the dark period in the history of the relationship between the countries.

South Korea, which was colonized by Japan from 1910 to 1945, considers itself one of the key Asian victims of past Japanese war aggressions.

Anti-Japanese sentiment revived in April when Koizumi made a surprise visit to the Yasukuni shrine which honors 2.5 million war dead, including 14 “Class A” Japanese war criminals from World War II.

At their meeting, the leaders also voiced concern over the clash on Saturday between South and North Korean navy vessels, but agreed to handle the incident calmly, the official said.

“It was a clear violation of the ceasefire accord by North Korea,” Kim told the Japanese premier, according to the Japanese official.

“President Kim said he is demanding that North Korea apologize, punish officials concerned and take measures not to repeat such a case, while Prime Minister Koizumi expressed concern about the incident,” the official said.

But “the two leaders agreed to prevent tension from mounting on the Korean peninsula following the incident,” the official said.

Kim said he would stick to his policy of tolerance towards the Communist country despite the incident, while calling for close dialogue among South Korea, Japan and the United States over the North Korean issue.

Koizumi pledged “full support” for Kim’s policy over the North, adding that Tokyo would separately push dialogue with Pyongyang in a bid to normalize diplomatic relations between the two countries, according to the official.