Japan and South Korea yesterday held their first high-level strategic dialogue since both countries elected new leaders, as they look to repair frayed ties.
Japanese Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Chikao Kawai and South Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Ahn Ho-young were to huddle in Tokyo for the 12th meeting of its kind since the two nations launched the framework in 2005.
The afternoon meeting was the first one under the governments of newly elected Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President-elect Park Geun-hye, as they attempt to improve relations soured by a territorial dispute.
The two diplomats were expected to discuss issues such as ways to deal with North Korea in the wake of a rocket launch widely believed to be missile test.
Ties between the two US allies deteriorated last year after outgoing South Korean President Lee Myung-bak made the first visit to tiny disputed islands known as Dokdo in Seoul and Takeshima in Tokyo.
The visit sent ties into a tailspin and reawakened historical animosities related to Japan’s 1910 to 1945 colonial rule and over South Korean women who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers.
Abe, who took office in late December, and Park, who is set to take office next month, appear to be trying to reset relations, having already sent an envoy from to Seoul.
Meanwhile, the top Philippine diplomat yesterday said that “very threatening” territorial claims made by China risked Asian stability.
Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario made the comments following a meeting in Manila with Japanese Secretary of Foreign Affairs Fumio Kishida, during which the two sides pledged to deepen security and other ties to counter a rising China.
The Philippines and Japan are locked in separate territorial disputes with China which have simmered for decades, but intensified recently amid what the two nations see as a more aggressive China.
“I think we all understand that the assertions being made by China, in terms of their nine-dash line claim for example, they do pose threats to the stability of the region,” Del Rosario told reporters.
The so-called “nine-dash” line map lays out China’s claims to most of the South China.
Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also have overlapping claims to parts of the South China Sea, but China insists it has sovereign rights to nearly all of it.
Del Rosario cited a range of recent China tactics that were of concern to the Philippines, including establishing a local governing authority to rule over the South China Sea and building in contested areas.
Without mentioning China directly, Kishida said it was necessary to “enhance the strategic partnership between the two countries and cooperate in shaping [a] peaceful and prosperous Asia-Pacific region.”
Manila expects to acquire 10 new patrol craft from Japan, which will also help train the under-equipped Philippine Coast Guard and fund a communications upgrade, Del Rosario said.
Del Rosario said that Philippine President Benigno Aquino III shared his view that Asia needed a militarily stronger Japan to balance China.
Separately, Japan scrambled fighter jets yesterday to head off a number of Chinese military planes near the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) which are claimed by Taiwan, China and Japan, Japanese media said. The planes were spotted on military radar inside Japan’s so-called air defense identification zone, the Fuji TV network reported.