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Japan eyes launch of panel to promote exchanges with S. Korea

TOKYO — Japan plans to launch a panel of experts on bilateral relations to discuss how to expand exchanges with South Korea as this year marks the 20th anniversary of a declaration to promote future-oriented ties, government sources said Saturday.


Based on input from the envisaged panel, the government apparently hopes to step up its diplomacy and improve ties that have been frayed over wartime history, especially the issue of “comfort women” who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels.


The roughly 10-member panel will include people from both academic and business circles who are well-versed in Japan-South Korea relations, the sources said, adding that the lineup would be finalized by the end of this month.


The promotion of people-to-people exchanges between Japan and South Korea in such fields as tourism, sports and art, is seen on the agenda.


The members are expected to analyze the past success in Japan of South Korean entertainment and Seoul’s opening of its doors to Japanese culture, after the 1998 declaration by then Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and South Korean President Kim Dae Jung.


The declaration in October of that year itself will also be an agenda item, according to the sources.


The document noted Japan caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of South Korea during its colonial rule, and Obuchi expressed his “deep remorse and heartfelt apology” for the historical fact.


The comfort women issue continued to be a source of diplomatic friction in the following years, but the Japanese government has been looking to improve bilateral ties at a time when bilateral cooperation is critical for realizing North Korea’s denuclearization.


In 2015, Tokyo and Seoul agreed to “finally and irreversibly” settle the issue.


When South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha visited Tokyo earlier in the month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed a willingness to develop ties in a “future-oriented” way on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the joint declaration.

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