New Japan PM to send envoys to South Korea amid territory dispute

SEOUL/TOKYO Fri Dec 28, 2012 8:15am GMT

Japan's new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends a news conference at his official residence in Tokyo December 26, 2012. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Japan's new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends a news conference at his official residence in Tokyo December 26, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Toru Hanai

SEOUL/TOKYO (Reuters) - New Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will send envoys to meet South Korean President-elect Park Geun-hye next month, a spokeswoman for Park said, a sign of Japan reaching out to its neighbour despite feuds over territory and wartime history.

Japan's relations with South Korea frayed badly in August after outgoing President Lee Myung-bak visited a disputed set of islands known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in Korea. Koreans also harbour bitter resentment of Japanese rule from 1910 to 1945.

The hawkish Abe, who wants to recast Japan's wartime history in less apologetic tones, led his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to a landslide victory in the December 16 lower house election, putting the conservative party back in power after a three-year hiatus.

The spokeswoman did not say who the envoys will be, but Abe told reporters last week he planned to send former finance minister Fukushiro Nukaga "to improve and develop Japan-South Korea relations". Abe visits on January 4.

Public broadcaster NHK reported on Friday that LDP senior lawmaker Takeo Kawamura would join Nukaga in the delegation.

Despite their close economic ties, Tokyo's relations with its East Asian neighbours Seoul and Beijing have long been overshadowed by Japan's militaristic past.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Thursday fell short of confirming Japan will uphold a landmark 1993 government statement acknowledging that Asian women were forced into sex slaves at wartime Japanese military brothels.

"History scholars and other experts are conducting study (on the issue). It is desirable such research be continued," Suga told reporters.

But Suga has said the new government will stand by a historic 1995 statement by then-prime minister Tomiichi Murayama, apologising for suffering caused by Japan's wartime aggression.

(Reporting by Linda Sieg and Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo and Jack Kim in Seoul; Editing by Nick Macfie)


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