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Japan, S. Korea lawmakers eye committees to mend ties for Olympics

TOKYO — Japanese and South Korean parliamentary groups plan to jointly work toward making the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics a success, with both sides setting up special committees dedicated to that end, lawmakers with knowledge of the matter said Tuesday.


The cross-party groups hope to help create an environment for Tokyo and Seoul to mend political ties that have chilled over wartime history and trade. The South Korean side broached the idea of creating the committees for coordination, according to the lawmakers, who spoke on condition of anonymity.


The envisaged units would seek to realize a visit by a group of South Korean lawmakers to Japan on the occasion of the Summer Games and promote exchanges between citizens of the two countries through tourism.


The Japanese and South Korean parliamentary leagues are expected to finalize the idea when they hold a joint meeting on Friday in Tokyo, drawing a clear distinction from anti-Japanese sentiment in some quarters in South Korea that are calling for boycotting the games.


The displaying of Japan’s “rising sun” flag at venues during the games has become an issue in recent weeks as Tokyo organizers do not plan to ban it.


South Korea’s parliament has adopted a resolution urging the International Olympic Committee to ban the use of the flag, seen by some as a symbol of Japan’s wartime aggression and militarism because it was used by the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy.


Ties between Tokyo and Seoul have often been fraught with issues linked to their wartime past, such as “comfort women,” who worked in Japanese military brothels, and wartime laborers during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.


When South Korea hosted the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended its opening ceremony and held talks with South Korean President Moon Jae In.


Reflecting the severe state of the bilateral relationship, no summit has been held for more than a year even as Abe and South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak Yon agreed on the importance of dialogue during a meeting last week.


The recent chill stems from a series of South Korean court rulings that ordered Japanese companies to pay compensation for wartime forced labor. The rulings run counter to Japan’s position that the compensation issue was settled under a 1965 bilateral accord.


Japan’s imposition of tighter export controls and the removal of South Korea from its list of preferential trading partners, triggered a tit-for-tat move by Seoul, which also took Japan off its similar list and decided to end an intelligence-sharing pact with Tokyo.


“We hope to step up exchanges between parliamentarians and encourage dialogue at the government level as well,” a senior member of the Japanese parliamentary group said.

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