Disaster takes focus off Japan's rows with neighbors

Last Updated 03 May 2018, 06:25 IST

At a one-day meeting of Japanese, Chinese and South Korean foreign ministers in Kyoto, words of solace and warm support for victims of the magnitude 9.0 temblor that hit northeastern and eastern Japan last week replaced the tense atmosphere often observed in talks between Japan and its neighbors, whose relations are not entirely rosy.

Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto and his Chinese and South Korean counterparts Yang Jiechi and Kim Sung Hwan jointly offered silent prayers for the thousands of people killed in the disaster.

The Chinese and South Korean foreign ministers even said their nationals think of the tragedy that hit Japan as their own.

The foreign ministers also had stern looks on their faces when they posed for photographers at bilateral meetings, apparently out of consideration for those affected by the earthquake and tsunami as well as a resulting nuclear crisis at a power plant in Fukushima Prefecture.

Japan's territorial disputes with China and South Korea, which have sharply deteriorated respective bilateral ties in the past, were almost obliterated as agenda items, as the trilateral talks focused on cooperation in responding to disasters and securing the safety of nuclear power generation, reflecting the current woes faced by Japan.

In the Japan-China foreign ministers' talks that preceded the trilateral meeting, Yang asked Matsumoto and Prime Minister Naoto Kan to visit China later this year, indicating Beijing's willingness to repair ties with Tokyo that were strained last year following maritime collisions near disputed islands in the East China Sea.

A senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official expressed expectations that China's offers of help for Japan's disaster victims could ''mitigate hostile feelings toward each other'' triggered by the maritime collisions.

In the bilateral talks between Matsumoto and Kim, the South Korean foreign minister asked Japan to cautiously deal with its screening of history textbooks in the spring so as not to damage bilateral ties, according to a conference source.

The textbook review could ignite an outcry from South Korea as it would involve reference to Japan's claim over South Korean-controlled islets in the Sea of Japan.
A South Korean government source said growing moves in the country to assist Japan, even among anti-Japanese groups, suggest ''the deepening of Japan-South Korea relations,'' and Seoul does not want to see its ties with Japan impaired by the results of the upcoming history textbook screening.

It remains to be seen whether Japan will be able to maintain the sense of solidarity with China and South Korea by the time the top leaders of the three countries meet for trilateral summit talks being arranged for late May in Japan.

(Published 20 March 2011, 10:35 IST)

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