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Japan's top diplomat expresses pleasure at improved ties with Korea

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida expressed pleasure at improved ties with South Korea since a landmark deal reached between Seoul and Tokyo late last year to resolve the sex slave issue.

Kishida also said that communication has been smooth between the neighboring countries following North Korea's nuclear and missile tests earlier this year, saying that it indicates how much progress has been made.

He made the remarks before starting bilateral talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se at the National Convention Center in the Laotian capital of Vientiane. Both are here to attend a series of regional meetings led by the Association of Southeast Nations.

"I feel that our ties have been on a normal path since last year's deal, and I am happy about it," Kishida said in his opening remarks. "Following the missile launch, it was possible to maintain smooth communication since (I) talked with Minister (Yun) via phone. I think this is the outcome of our ties improving."

Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida. (Yonhap)
Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida. (Yonhap)
On Dec. 28, South Korea and Japan reached a landmark deal in which Tokyo apologized for its colonial-era (1910-45) atrocities and agreed to provide 1 billion yen ($9.4 million) for the creation of a foundation aimed at supporting the victims, euphemistically called comfort women. Most of the sex slaves used by the Japanese military were from Korea, with the issue cited as one of the main barriers to improving bilateral relations.

The foundation that both sides agreed to set up will be officially launched Thursday, about seven months after the deal was reached.

The agreement has been hailed by the international community as a step in the right direction given that the comfort women issue has been a long-standing obstacle to ties between the two neighboring countries.

Still, victims and liberal civic groups have accused the government of striking a deal that lacks Japan's acknowledgment of legal responsibility. They also said the agreement was reached without enough consultation with the victims.

Historians estimate that up to 200,000 women, mostly from Korea, were forced to work in front-line brothels for Japanese troops during World War II. (Yonhap)

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