Japanese Ambassador Masatoshi Muto on Friday called for South Korea to resume bilateral free trade talks with Japan, saying a successful agreement between the two Asian economic powers could help them lead the global market.
Free trade talks between South Korea and Japan have been stalled since late 2004 as the two sides disagreed over how to tear down tariffs on agricultural goods. The two nations have held preliminary talks to resume the stalled negotiations since 2008.
"We need to resume the stalled Korea-Japan FTA talks," Muto said in a speech during a forum organized by some lawmakers in Seoul.
If South Korea and Japan sign a free trade pact, Muto said the deal "will play a significant role in mapping out rules to help the two sides lead the global market."
The remarks by Muto came ahead of next week's summit talks planned in New York between South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and new Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
The bilateral summit, the first since Noda became Japan's prime minister early this month, will take place on Wednesday when the two leaders visit New York to attend this year's U.N. General Assembly, Seoul's officials said.
Seoul and Tokyo held six rounds of talks up until November 2004, but the negotiations were suspended as South Korea deemed Japan's offer to open up its agriculture and fisheries sectors to be unacceptable. There is also strong concern in South Korea that such a deal would expand its trade deficit with the neighboring country.
Despite close economic ties, bilateral relations have often frayed over issues stemming from Japan's brutal colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945, including Tokyo's territorial claims to Seoul's easternmost islets of Dokdo or its attempt to gloss over wartime atrocities.
South Koreans view such moves as a sign that Japan hasn't truly repented for its wartime past.
In his speech, Muto singled out the issue of Dokdo as the most divisive matter in bilateral relations.
"Resolving the matter isn't easy because South Korea regards it as a historical issue, while Japan regards it as a territorial issue," Muto said.
"Although it will take time, we will make efforts to resolve the issue."
Japan's attempt to lay claim to Dokdo in the East Sea between the two nations has long been a source of diplomatic tensions with South Korea.
South Korea has rejected Japan's claims over Dokdo as nonsense because the country reclaimed sovereignty over its territory, including Dokdo and many other islands around the Korean Peninsula, when it regained independence.
Meanwhile, Muto made no mention of a Thursday proposal by South Korea to hold bilateral talks on the issue of Tokyo's sexual enslavement of Korean women during World War II.
The proposal comes after the Constitutional Court ruled late last month that it is unconstitutional for Seoul to not take any action over the dispute between the victims, who were forced to serve Japan's military, and Tokyo, which refuses to compensate them.