NEW YORK – With the election of Shinzo Abe as prime minister, South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Ban Ki Moon said he hopes the new leader will face up to Japan’s past and repair bilateral relations.
“We sincerely hope that Prime Minister Abe will learn lessons from what has transpired in Prime Minister (Junichiro) Koizumi’s administration,” Ban said Tuesday during an interview in New York, referring to the annual visits to Yasukuni Shrine by Abe’s predecessor.
“That means he (Abe) should squarely, squarely address the past history, military issues,” Ban said.
He expressed a desire for new cooperative efforts under Abe’s leadership.
“We need to work together for a more future-oriented relationship, direction,” he said, indicating the possibility of holding “all sorts of high-level exchanges and meetings, including summit meetings,” depending on how Japan deals with its past.
South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun refused to hold summits with Koizumi since last November in protest of his visits to the controversial shrine. Yet there is a renewed sense of hope, Ban said, that Seoul and Tokyo will be able to “improve our political relationship with correct understandings and perception of this past history legacy.”
On the contentious issue of the Yasukuni visits, it is not clear whether Abe will follow in Koizumi’s footsteps. He reportedly made a secret visit in April and has not denied he could go again.
However, if Abe makes positive efforts, Ban said, there is a possibility of holding summits again, either by inviting Abe to South Korea or meeting elsewhere.
He also said South Korean diplomats are “exploring” all possibilities, but nothing has been decided at this point.
Ban, who is also the leading contender to succeed Kofi Annan when the U.N. secretary general position becomes open in December, reiterated the necessity to “overcome this current uncomfortable relationship.”
He underscored the importance of the Seoul-Tokyo relationship, which is critical on many fronts.
“I would like to emphasize the importance of (South) Korea and Japan to maintain a very close, mutually cooperative relationship,” he said. “We are two countries sharing the same goals and objectives — democracy, a free economy and human rights.”
Ban spoke of his expectation of progress, citing an encounter he had with Abe. At the funeral of former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, Abe told Ban he would “humbly address this past history issue” and try his best to “to remove all misunderstandings.”
“I hope he will keep his word and I hope he will learn lessons from what has happened in the past,” Ban said.
Ban said he would like to see a security consultative forum similar to the European OSCE established once the six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear threat progress.
The six-party talks, which include participation by both Koreas, Japan, China, Russia and the United States, have been stalled since last year.
Pyongyang maintains it will not return to the table until Washington lifts financial sanctions imposed last year.
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