S. Korea, Japan sign treaty on return of historic artifacts

November 14, 2010 2:34 pm 

By Lee Chi-dong

YOKOHAMA, Japan, Nov. 14 — South Korea and Japan signed an accord Sunday on the return of Korean artifacts Japan took during its 1910-45 colonial rule, clearing one of the many obstacles to their decades-long efforts to settle historical disputes and improve diplomatic ties.

The agreement shows "the Japanese government's will to improve relations with South Korea for the establishment of a forward-looking, friendly relationship," South Korean President Lee Myung-bak told his Japanese counterpart Naoto Kan in their talks here, according to Lee's office Cheong Wa Dae.

Under the treaty that requires parliamentary approval, Japan will transfer 1,205 volumes of ancient books, including a collection of royal protocols from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), known as "Uigwe," all of which are being kept at Imperial Household Agency in Tokyo.

Lee was quoted as saying that the deal is expected to serve as a "new starting point" in bilateral cultural cooperation.

The Japanese prime minister agreed that it will be a "big turning point in Japan-South Korea relations," Cheong Wa Dae spokeswoman Kim Hee-jung told reporters.

Kan promised that his government will deliver the royal texts to Seoul "at an early date" after receiving parliamentary ratification, she said.

The accord, signed between the two sides' foreign ministers with Lee and Kan in attendance, calls for Japan to transfer the artifacts to South Korea within six months after it takes effect. Japan displayed two of the 167 volumes of Uigwe books at the venue of the signing ceremony.

South Korea estimates that more than 60,000 cultural assets taken away during the colonial era remain in Japan.

Japan returned a total of 1,432 items to South Korea when the two countries normalized diplomatic relations in 1965. Japan had maintained that all related issues were settled at that time.

In August, the Japanese prime minister offered a formal apology for his country's colonization of the peninsula and pledged to transfer a set of historic documents, an overture to Seoul on the occasion of the centennial of Japan's annexation of the peninsula.

In Sunday's summit held on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting, Lee and Kan agreed to resume the so-called "shuttle diplomacy," in which the leaders of the neighboring nations exchange visits every year. Their bi-yearly summit has been suspended due to Japan's attempts to whitewash its wartime past.

Kan invited Lee to visit Japan again within this year and Lee responded positively, the spokeswoman said.

On North Korea, Lee and Kan agreed the communist nation should first take a sincere attitude toward denuclearization and that the six-way talks on its nuclear program should be used for substantial progress, not "dialogue for the sake of dialogue," she said.

Kan expressed hope for the early resumption of talks on a free trade agreement with South Korea, and Lee proposed "serious discussions" on the matter when he visits Japan next time, she added.

This year's APEC summit concluded Sunday with a joint declaration by leaders to continue to seek free trade agreements.

"We reaffirm our unwavering commitment to achieving free and open trade and investment in the region," the declaration said.

The leaders promised "concrete steps" in efforts toward a "Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific" but did not give any set dates. (PNA/Yonhap)

DCT/rsm

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