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Disaster takes focus off Japan`s rows with neighbours

Last Updated: Sunday, March 20, 2011 - 17:47

Kyoto: The gigantic earthquake and
subsequent tsunami that inflicted an unprecedented crisis on
Japan could provide an opportunity for Tokyo to put aside
existing problems with its Asian neighbours and dramatically
improve diplomatic ties.

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
north-eastern and eastern Japan last week replaced the tense
atmosphere often observed in talks between Japan and its
neighbours, 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

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.


First Published: Sunday, March 20, 2011 - 17:47

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