China, Japan,South Korea set up cultural ties despite rows

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The culture ministers of South Korea, Japan and China agreed on Friday to step up cultural, sports and people-to-people exchanges despite recent tensions over trade and their shared history.

Their meeting in the South Korean port of Incheon comes amid an escalating trade and diplomatic spat between Japan and South Korea, and an intensifying regional rivalry with a rising China.

The three countries promote cultural exchanges but differing views on their shared history, such as the legacy of the Japan’s occupation of Korea and parts of China, have often hampered those efforts.

The ministers – Park Yang-woo of South Korea, Masahiko Shibayama of Japan and Luo Shugang of China – promised more cultural, sport and people-to-people exchanges over the next 10 years. During that time Japan will host the 2020 Summer Olympics and the 2022 Winter Olympics will held in Beijing.

“The three countries made it clear that future cultural exchanges and cooperation should be conducted based on the principles of mutual respect and reciprocity and in a way that promotes cultural diversity and peace in East Asia,” the ministers said in a joint statement.

Park and Shibayama shared a cordial handshake alongside Luo as they signed agreements aimed at expanding trilateral cultural programs, in contrast to the frosty exchanges between the two countries’ foreign ministers recently.

The two culture ministers held separate talks on Thursday where they agreed to continue cultural cooperation despite the political and economic feud, South Korea’s culture ministry said in a statement.

Shibayama said more civilian exchanges were needed to mend ties, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported.

“Japan-South Korea relations are in a tough spot and deepening exchanges at the grass-roots level through cooperation in the cultural field will help improve relations,” Shibayama told reporters after the three-way meeting.

Relations between the two countries worsened late last year after South Korea’s Supreme Court ordered compensation for some Koreans forced to work at Japanese firms during Japan’s 1910-45 occupation.

Japan remove South Korea’s fast-track export status this month, which prompted Seoul to drop Tokyo from its own list and end a bilateral intelligence-sharing accord.

The row has taken a toll on tourist exchanges, with South Koreans cancelling travel plans as part of a boycott of Japanese products and services. The number of South Korean visitors to Japan fell last month to its lowest in nearly a year, Japan’s tourism agency said last week.

Park, who also oversees tourism, is expected to meet Japan’s tourism minister, ‎Keiichi Ishii‎, later on Friday ahead of a tripartite gathering with Luo.

A dozen South Korean activists protested outside the meeting venue, calling on Japan to compensate Koreans forced to work for Japanese firms during its occupation of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945, and the use of “comfort women” in its wartime brothels.

“Japan should apologize and compensate the victims of forced labor and comfort women if it wants to host the Olympics and pursue forward-looking relations with Korea,” the group said.

Reminders of Japan’s occupation are inflammatory for both sides, including the issue of “comfort women”, a euphemism referring to women, many of them Korean, forced into the wartime military brothels.

Reuters

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