Japan's new PM to send envoy to South Korea

Updated: 2012-12-22 07:30

By Agence France-Presse in Tokyo (China Daily)

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Japan's incoming prime minister will send a special envoy to Seoul, he said on Friday, to meet South Korea's president-elect, in an early attempt to mend frayed ties.

Shinzo Abe will dispatch a senior official from his Liberal Democratic Party to deliver a letter to Park Geun-hye, just days after the two triumphed in their own national elections.

Relations between the two countries turned icy earlier this year when a row over disputed islands blistered suddenly.

It quickly degenerated into a familiar confrontation over attitudes to shared history, with Seoul accusing Tokyo of not being contrite enough for its wartime behavior.

The emissary will be former finance minister Fukushiro Nukaga, a senior member of the Japan-South Korea parliamentarians' league, who has relationships with senior figures in Seoul, media reports said.

Initial reports suggested Nukaga was to leave on Friday, but it was later reported the visit would be put off until at least next week.

Abe is expected to become prime minister on Wednesday after a parliamentary vote.

Ties between Japan and South Korea had appeared to be improving earlier this year, with a currency swap in place and a near-miss on the signing of an intelligence-sharing deal.

But a sudden visit to the Dokdo islands, which Japan claims as Takeshima, by President Lee Myung-bak in August riled Japanese politicians.

Abe's sweeping parliamentary victory on Sunday was greeted with caution in South Korea, where newspapers pointed to his past comments on Japan's admissions over sex slavery.

Park promised on Thursday to work on building trust in Northeast Asia but in an aside clearly aimed at Japan, stressed that stability had to be based on "a correct historical perception".

Abe is likely to visit South Korea in February if he is invited to Park's inauguration ceremony, the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun reported.

Victor Cha, director of Asian studies at Georgetown University, said Park and Abe had similar views on many strategic matters, but that the issue of "comfort" women was a stumbling block. The Japanese military forcibly took women from occupied territories to be used as sex slaves during its military expansion from the early 1930s through the end of World War II.

"Frankly, the scenario that worries me is not that Abe is going to say something that's provocative but that one of his people ... will say something that gets blasted around the Internet as being the position of the Abe government on comfort women," Cha said.

"With Park Geun-hye as not only the first female president but the first female head of state in all of Northeast Asia, that would be very difficult for her."

(China Daily 12/22/2012 page8)