Japan and South Korea are to hold talks this week to try to improve frosty relations before US President Barack Obama is to visit each US ally during an Asian tour, it was announced on Sunday.
The two governments “have decided to engage in intensive discussions on various subjects at various levels” to improve conditions surrounding relations, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
Junichi Ihara, head of Japan’s Asia and Oceania affairs bureau, is to visit Seoul tomorrow for a meeting with his Korean counterpart, the statement said.
“At the occasion, the comfort women issue will be discussed,” it added.
Relations between Tokyo and Seoul have sunk to their worst level in years, mired in emotive disputes linked to Japan’s 1910 to 1945 colonial rule over Korea — particularly its use of so-called “comfort women” from Taiwan, South Korea and other Asian nations as sex slaves in wartime brothels.
The issue has deeply divided the key US allies in northeast Asia amid growing regional security risks, including China’s military buildup and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
Obama managed last month to arrange the first summit between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye, in The Hague.
Japan’s government made a landmark apology in 1993 to survivors of the wartime brothels.
However, repeated wavering since then on the issue among senior Japanese right-wing politicians has contributed to a feeling in South Korea that Japan is in denial and is not sufficiently remorseful.
Abe, despite his nationalistic inclinations, promised last month not to revise the 1993 apology, and said he was “deeply pained” by the suffering of women drawn into the system of wartime brothels.
Obama is also to visit Malaysia and the Philippines during his Asian tour this month.