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Editorial: Japan-S. Korea talks raise importance of efforts to ensure regional stability

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi recently met with his South Korean counterpart Chung Eui-yong in Hawaii. It was the first face-to-face meeting between the countries' foreign ministers in five months, and also the first such encounter since Hayashi took office.

    During their talks, the ministers confirmed that cooperation between Japan and South Korea was important for the stability of the region, including the response to North Korea. Amid a string of missile launches by the North, it is only natural for Tokyo and Seoul to strengthen their collaboration in the field of security.

    On issues that have caused the bilateral relationship to deteriorate such as mobilized wartime labor, former "comfort women," and restrictions on semiconductor exports, the two sides failed again to converge. And both sides also remained at odds over Japan's recommendation of a gold and silver mine on the island of Sado in Niigata Prefecture as a World Heritage site.

    Nevertheless, the ministers agreed to step up consultations and communication between diplomatic authorities in a bid to restore healthy relations. In order to emerge from a state of deep mutual distrust, the need to strengthen dialogue comes as a matter of course. We hope officials will make good on their words.

    A joint statement issued during a trilateral ministerial meeting between the foreign ministers of Japan, the United States and South Korea, with U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken taking part, expressed reservations about activity by North Korea, while also emphasizing the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. Global issues ranging from the situations in Myanmar and Ukraine to the climate crisis and efforts to end the COVID-19 pandemic were also raised.

    In a joint news conference, Hayashi stated that collaboration between Japan, the United States and South Korea was indispensable for peace and stability in the region. Chung also expressed the view that the scope for cooperation was continuing to expand.

    However, as it stands, the deterioration of relations between Japan and South Korea is dampening trilateral collaboration together with the United States.

    In its Indo-Pacific Strategy released last week, the United States named Japan and South Korea as countries among its allies and partners that it would encourage to strengthen ties with one another. This could be described as an expression of reservations that poor relations could hinder its strategy for East Asia.

    With confrontation between the United States and China intensifying, Japan and South Korea bear a heavy responsibility when it comes to ensuring stability in East Asia. Leaving relations to sour will only damage the national interests of one's own country -- this is the kind of self-awareness that is required.

    Following the presidential election in South Korea in March, the next administration will be inaugurated in May. Leading candidates for both the ruling and opposition parties have indicated that improvement of ties between Tokyo and Seoul is necessary.

    It is not uneasy to unravel a thread that has become tangled. Following the foreign ministerial talks, the governments of both countries must hold serious dialogue and make efforts and aim for a breakthrough in the situation.

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