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(LEAD) New top Japanese envoy meets S. Korean vice FM amid protracted tensions

Diplomacy 14:27 February 26, 2021

(ATTN: UPDATES paras 3-8 with details after the meeting; REPLACES photos)
By Kim Seung-yeon

SEOUL, Feb. 26 (Yonhap) -- New Japanese Ambassador to South Korea Koichi Aiboshi met with First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun on Friday as he began his duty amid protracted tensions between the two countries over wartime issues.

Aiboshi, who previously served as Japan's ambassador to Israel, arrived in Seoul early this month to take office and went straight into a mandatory two-week coronavirus self-isolation. Friday was the first day after the quarantine ended Thursday.

Aiboshi visited the foreign ministry to present a copy of his credentials, a customary procedure by foreign ambassadors before delivering the original to the president, before meeting with Choi.

During the meeting, the two sides agreed to maintain close communication, the ministry said.

"Choi told the ambassador that the process of resolving various pending issues one step at a time, rather than linking them together, is important, and asked him to expand cooperation in a future-oriented manner based on the two-pronged approach," the ministry said in a release.

Aiboshi said he will make efforts to contribute to restoring people-to-people exchanges between South Korea and Japan as the COVID-19 situation stabilizes, according to the ministry.

The two sides also explained to each other their basic positions regarding the South Korean court rulings on Japan's wartime forced labor and sexual slavery victims.

"I'm sure there will be a chance later to speak to you at an appropriate place," the ambassador told reporters as he left the ministry, declining to comment further.

His appointment came as the relations between South Korea and Japan remain badly frayed over rows stemming from wartime issues of forced labor and sexual slavery, as well as Tokyo's export restrictions on Seoul.

Seoul has been seeking to mend ties with Tokyo to create fresh opportunities to jump-start the stalled peace process with North Korea and deepen ties with the U.S. under the new Joe Biden administration, which is keen on strengthening regional alliances.

In an online message posted on the Japanese Embassy's website last week, Aiboshi stressed the importance of trilateral cooperation between the two countries and the U.S. for regional stability, calling Japan and Korea "mutually important neighbors."

But the outlook of the bilateral ties remains bleak with no immediate solution in sight for the long-running issues. Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong has yet to speak to his Japanese counterpart, Toshimitsu Motegi, since Chung took office earlier this month.

New Japanese Ambassador to South Korea Koichi Aiboshi leaves the foreign ministry in Seoul after meeting with First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun and other officials, as he began his duty as the top envoy on Feb. 26, 2021. (Yonhap)
South Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun (R) poses for photo with new Japanese Ambassador to South Korea Koichi Aiboshi, ahead of their first meeting on Feb. 26, 2021. (Yonhap)


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