Japan intends to return a portion of the Korean royal archives that it seized during its 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula next week, when Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda visits Seoul for summit talks with President Lee Myung-bak, a South Korean official said Wednesday.
The message was conveyed by Shinsuke Sugiyama, director-general of the Japanese foreign ministry's Asian affairs bureau, to his South Korean counterpart Cho Sei-young during their bilateral meeting in Seoul earlier in the day, the official said.
"In response to the Japanese government's intention, we told Sugiyama that we would positively review it," the foreign ministry official said on the condition of anonymity.
Noda, who took office early last month, will make a two-day visit to South Korea from Tuesday and the planned summit with Lee will take place on Wednesday.
Last November, Japan agreed to return a total of 1,205 volumes of Korean archives as Tokyo and Seoul moved to build improved ties. Tokyo has completed its required domestic legal process to return the books by Dec. 10 of this year at the latest.
Those books include texts of royal protocols known as "Uigwe," all of which are being kept by the Imperial Household Agency in Tokyo.
Relations between South Korea and Japan have often suffered setbacks due to territorial and historical rows related to the colonial rule.
In the latest sign of the prickly ties, Japan has adamantly refused for weeks to accept a proposal by South Korea to hold bilateral talks to discuss the issue of compensation for aging Korean women forced into sexual slavery for Japan's World War II soldiers.
Tokyo has admitted its wartime military used sex slaves, but refuses to compensate the victims individually, arguing that the issue was settled by a 1965 normalization treaty with South Korea.
Some critics said Japan's plan to return some of the looted books during Noda's visit might be a ploy to dilute growing criticism in South Korea over the issue of wartime sexual slavery.
At a U.N. meeting in New York on Tuesday, South Korea demanded that Japan take "legal responsibility" for the aging Korean victims.