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Abe sending mixed signals to Seoul with official visits

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration plans to dispatch Finance Minister Taro Aso to Monday’s inauguration ceremony for incoming South Korean President Park Geun Hye, but will also send an official to a controversial ceremony dealing with Takeshima, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday.

Suga said the dispatch of Aso, who also serves as deputy prime minister, signals the government’s desire to build “a future-oriented and multilevel relationship” with Seoul. He said South Korea is “the most important neighboring country and one that shares basic values and interests.”

But Suga also stated officially that Aiko Shimajiri, parliamentary secretary for the Cabinet Office, will be sent to the contentious ceremony Friday hosted by the Shimane Prefectural Government to commemorate the 1905 annexation of Takeshima.

It will be the first time a central government official will attend the annual ceremony in Matsue. The Abe administration apparently wants to make its position clear on the territorial disputes over Takeshima, a set of rocky outcroppings in the Sea of Japan that are controlled by South Korea, which calls them Dokdo, but claimed by Japan.

Abe, a nationalistic hawk, is walking a fine line by trying not to stir up disputes with neighboring countries and focusing on the economy, while at the same time placating his core supporters.