S. Korea, Japan agree to continue efforts to resolve pending issues despite tension over diplomat’s remarks

SEOUL-- South Korea and Japan agreed Tuesday to continue efforts to resolve pending issues rooted largely in wartime history, the foreign ministry said Tuesday, despite the flare-up of tension over a Japanese diplomat's disparaging remarks on President Moon Jae-in's approach to Tokyo.

First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun shared the understanding with his Japanese counterpart, Takeo Mori, during their bilateral talks in Tokyo on Tuesday, the ministry said.

"The two vice ministers agreed to continue to make efforts going forward to resolve pending issues, based on the outcome of the working-level talks that have been under way to achieve the summit between the leaders of South Korea and Japan," the ministry said in a release.

Choi flew to Tokyo earlier in the day to attend bilateral talks with Mori and a trilateral meeting with Mori and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, slated for Wednesday.

Choi's trip came as the already-frayed relations with Tokyo took yet another turn for the worse this week following a news report that Hirohisa Soma, deputy chief of mission at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, told a reporter at lunch last week that Moon's efforts to improve ties with Tokyo were tantamount to "masturbation."

Seoul summoned Japanese Ambassador to Seoul Koichi Aiboshi to lodge a protest, demanding Tokyo take due steps over Soma's remarks.

On Monday, Moon's office announced that President Moon Jae-in will not visit Japan for the opening of the Olympic Games, dashing hope for a potential summit with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on the occasion.

Before leaving for Tokyo, Choi told reporters that Soma's remarks acted as a "significant obstacle" to Moon's consideration of a trip to Japan.

In the talks with Mori, Choi protested Soma's "undiplomatic and rude" remarks and called for Tokyo to "take appropriate measures as soon as possible," according to the ministry.

He also explained that winning the hearts of victims is the foundation for solving wartime history issues, and said that he hopes that Japan will take an open-minded approach based on the "correct perception" of history.

Choi and Mori also discussed ways to make progress in high-level exchanges and boost cooperation in the battle against the coronavirus, as well as the three-way cooperation with the United States.

They also exchanged views on North Korea's denuclearization, the ministry said.

On Wednesday, Choi is scheduled to meet trilaterally with Mori and Sherman, during which they are expected to discuss North Korea and other shared challenges, including dealing with an assertive China, amid the Joe Biden administration's drive to bring the two Asian allies closer for stronger cooperation in the region.

It will mark the three countries' first vice-ministerial talks in nearly four years. The three-way dialogue, launched in 2015, had taken place at least once every year until 2017 but remained inactive during the Donald Trump administration.

Choi will return on Wednesday and hold bilateral policy dialogue with Sherman in Seoul on Friday.

Source: Yonhap News Agency