S. Korea, Japan slate defense talks

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SEOUL: South Korea and Japan will next week hold their first high-level security talks in more than five years, Seoul said Friday, despite simmering tensions over territorial and other historical disputes.

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The so-called “2+2” talks will take place in Seoul next Tuesday between senior foreign ministry and defense ministry officials from both sides.

The resumption of the dialogue —last held in 2009—hints at a slow thaw in practical diplomatic contacts despite a glacial rift in the overall relationship.

“At the talks, the first in more than five years, they will discuss defense and security policies and cooperation, regional security situations and other matters of mutual concern,” the South Korean foreign ministry said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Japanese media reported the two governments were working to arrange a defense ministers’ meeting.

Responding to questions in Tokyo, Defense Minister Gen Nakatani noted there had been no such meeting for nearly four years.

“It would be meaningful to hold talks at an early time and exchange frank views,” he said.

Friday’s announcement came at the end of a week of acrimonious exchanges over a set of new social studies textbooks in Japanese junior high schools.

Seoul called in the Japanese ambassador to protest after Tokyo’s education ministry said all the textbooks would assert Japanese ownership of two separate island groups at the centre of disputes with China and South Korea.

The row between Seoul and Tokyo over a tiny set of South Korean-controlled islets has rumbled on for decades, in tandem with highly-emotive disputes related to Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.

Beijing and Tokyo have similar issues and the disputes are being highlighted as the region prepares to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

The foreign ministers of South Korea, China and Japan held talks in Seoul last month and pledged to work towards a trilateral leadership summit at “the earliest” opportunity, but observers say such a meet is unlikely in the short term.

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye and Chinese President Xi Jinping have already held two fruitful bilateral summits. AFP

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