Korea and Japan started the process of mending fences after Tokyo's persistent attempts to bring about a meeting on the sidelines of the APEC forum finally paid off. On Sunday, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda managed to approach President Lee Myung-bak as he was leaving a meeting and the two leaders had a brief conversation.
Japanese Prime Minister Koichiro Genba had earlier proposed a meeting with his Korean counterpart at the summit, and this on Saturday also took place.
Lee and Noda spoke for just five minutes standing there, but it was still the first sign of a tentative thaw since tensions escalated after Lee visited Dokdo on Aug. 10.
But while Japan seems keen to mend frayed ties, Foreign Ministry officials here say seeds of conflict remain. Japan faces elections for a new prime minister, which seems to have goaded politicians there to milking nationalist sentiment for all it is worth. "If rightwing Japanese politicians attempt to land on Dokdo or revise the Kono statement, the conflict could easily reignite," said one expert.
There are moves afoot among rightwingers in Japan to scrap a statement by former Japanese cabinet secretary Yohei Kono from 1993 which admitted the existence of Asian sex slaves for the Japanese military in World War II and to a certain extent the role played by the Imperial Army.
Lee, meanwhile, incensed Japanese nationalists when he visited Dokdo, to which Tokyo maintains a dubious claim, and called on the Japanese emperor to apologize for Japanese wartime atrocities.
The Noda administration has to some extent taken its lead from them and may keep doing so to woo the rightwing vote. Japan is also minded to block Korea's bid to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council after Seoul raised the issue of the sex slaves at the UN.