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Japan and South Korea still contending with deep divisions

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Senior officials from Japan and South Korea remained divided during their talks Monday over wartime history issues and Tokyo’s decision to release treated radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.

Takehiro Funakoshi, head of the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, told his South Korean counterpart, Lee Sang-ryol, that Seoul should take appropriate action over wartime labor compensation and “comfort women” issues, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

The South Korean side, on the other hand, reiterated its position that it would be impossible to resolve the issues unless Japan makes an accurate accounting of history.

The two officials did not hold any specific discussions about the Tokyo Olympics, although there is speculation that South Korean President Moon Jae-in may fly to Japan in line with the Summer Games.

The Japanese side also protested against a recent military drill by South Korea around disputed islets in the Sea of Japan. The South Korean-held islands are called Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea.

Seoul expressed concern over Japan’s decision to release treated radioactive water from the Fukushima plant as well as Tokyo’s position on the territorial dispute.

Nonetheless, both sides agreed to continue talks toward improving bilateral relations.

The two diplomats met in Seoul on the sidelines of a trilateral meeting between high-ranking officials from Japan, the United States and South Korea.

It was the first meeting of senior officials from the two countries since they held talks in Tokyo in April.

The two Asian countries, both key allies of the United States, have been at odds over a number of bilateral issues including wartime compensation.

Tokyo-Seoul relations have sunk to their lowest point in decades following South Korean Supreme Court rulings in 2018 that ordered Japanese companies to compensate plaintiffs who were laborers during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

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