TOKYO: Japan’s new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday told his special envoy to Seoul to work to improve ties with South Korea, describing it as Tokyo’s most important neighbour, media reports said.
Abe plans to dispatch veteran lawmaker and former finance minister Fukushiro Nukaga to Seoul to see president-elect Park Geun-Hye on Friday in an attempt to improve relations soured by a rumbling row over disputed islands.
Abe, who took office last week, met Nukaga at his private house and instructed him to convey his message that he wants to make a good start as the two countries launch new governments, Jiji and Kyodo news agencies said.
“South Korea is most important among neighbouring countries that share democracy and other values with us,” Jiji quoted Abe as telling Nukaga.
The territorial row flared again last year following a surprise visit by South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak to the Dokdo islands, known by Japan as Takeshima.
It quickly degenerated into a familiar confrontation over attitudes to shared history, with Seoul accusing its former colonial ruler Tokyo of not being contrite enough for its wartime behaviour.
Abe’s planned dispatch of a special envoy raised hopes for a fresh start under almost simultaneous leadership transfers, and as North Korea’s successful rocker launch last month renews regional security concerns.
Japan is engaged in a separate dispute with China over disputed islands in the East China Sea.