Posted : 2010-02-10 19:22
Updated : 2010-02-10 19:22

Will Seoul Tell Japan to Return Loot?

By Do Je-hae
Staff Reporter

Foreign Minister Yoo Myung-hwan will meet with Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada in Seoul Thursday, but it is unclear whether the two sides will discuss Korea's efforts to retrieve royal documents that were looted during the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910~1945).

Ahead of the bilateral meeting, a high-ranking Japanese diplomat of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau said Tuesday in Tokyo that Japan will not bring the issue to the table during Minister Okada's two-day visit, as there has been no official request from the Korean government in this regard.

Junji Shimada, director of the Northeast Asia Division of the Japanese foreign ministry, reportedly confirmed that the issue of looted cultural properties or an official statement regarding the 100th year of Japan's annexation of Korea were not selected as official agenda items for the talks. It is the Japanese minister's first visit to Seoul since he took office in September 2009.

The remark is a reaction to latest domestic news reports that the Korean government is reviewing a request to secure the handover of hundreds of volumes of royal documents that were looted during Japan's colonial rule. Seoul recently confirmed that Japan's Imperial Household Agency is safekeeping hundreds of volumes of royal documents of the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910).

A foreign ministry spokesman told reporters Monday that the government is undecided over whether the stolen cultural properties should be discussed during Minister Okada's Seoul visit.

"We have been talking with relevant ministries on how to deal with the cultural properties that are currently under Japan's possession," spokesman Kim Young-sun said.

The legality of the retrieval of such property remains a complicated matter, owing to a 1965 agreement between the two countries.

Korea agreed not to demand compensation, either at the governmental or individual level, after receiving $800 million in grants and soft loans from Japan as compensation for its colonial rule.

As a result of the treaty, Korea also renounced its claim to the stolen cultural properties.

Pursuant to the treaty, Japan has cited the renunciation and has not responded to any requests for a handover. Some have been returned in the form of donations.

Reports from the Cultural Heritage Administration said that there are currently about 76,143 Korean cultural properties in 20 countries. More than half are in Japan.

Many Koreans harbor the perception that the government should be more forward when it comes to retrieving cultural properties pillaged by imperial powers in the past.

Civic groups and individuals have been at the forefront of efforts to repatriate cultural artifacts stored overseas.

When a French court recently rejected a Korean civic organization's request to return royal texts from the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) stolen by French troops, the foreign ministry said that it would seek a permanent lease of the texts, instead of full ownership.

Civic activists have been asking the government to establish a special task force to deal with the issue.

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