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Panel on Japan-S. Korea relations proposes more youth exchanges

TOKYO — A panel proposed Wednesday that exchanges between young Japanese and South Korean people should be encouraged even when bilateral relations face difficulties.


The panel of scholars was tasked with exploring how to improve ties between Tokyo and Seoul as the two countries mark the 20th anniversary Monday of a joint declaration that sought to develop a future-oriented relationship in spite of the countries’ wartime history.


The issue of “comfort women,” or women who were forced to work at wartime Japanese military brothels, has been a hurdle for bilateral relations.


Following the panel’s proposals which were submitted to Foreign Minister Taro Kono, the focus shifts to whether Japan and South Korea will craft a new document.


“It’s important for the government to send a message encouraging continued exchanges in the private sector even when bilateral relations worsen,” former Cultural Affairs Agency chief Seiichi Kondo, who heads the panel, said at the meeting.


The set of proposals call for expanding youth exchanges between the two countries, expanding support for young Japanese who wish to work in South Korea or young South Koreans in Japan, and encouraging foreign tourists to visit the two countries as a package.


Since August, the panel has held a series of meetings to deepen mutual understanding in areas such as tourism, food, and sports.


Japan had sounded out South Korea about a visit by President Moon Jae In on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the joint declaration, but it is unlikely to happen, sources familiar with bilateral relations have said.


The issues of comfort women and Koreans forced into labor during Japan’s colonial rule continue to cast a shadow on bilateral ties.


The 1998 joint declaration, issued by then Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, sought to improve bilateral ties for the 21st century.


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.”

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