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New Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka vowed Friday to study past developments in Japan-China ties and talk to Chinese officials directly to improve Tokyo’s strained relations with Beijing.

Speaking in an interview, Japan’s first female foreign minister said it is important to respect the 1972 Japan-China joint declaration, which led to the normalization of bilateral ties by recognizing Beijing as the sole legitimate government of China. The declaration was signed by her father, the late Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka.

Tanaka, added that she had no immediate plans to visit China.

“China-Taiwan relations are a very delicate matter,” she said, indicating that Japan should not have issued a visa for former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui, who visited Japan earlier this week for heart treatment. “At first, I did not understand why (Lee) was coming to Japan . . . although I now know that Japan admitted his visit on humanitarian grounds.”

A contentious history textbook written by nationalist authors has also caused a diplomatic row with China and South Korea, which have criticized the textbook for distorting historical facts about Japan’s wartime atrocities in Asian countries.

“I was surprised to see there were still those kind of people who try to distort facts in a textbook,” Tanaka said. “It is necessary that we recognize the (historical) facts as facts.”

Tanaka did not give a specific answer to how she would handle expected calls from Seoul to revise the textbook, saying, “We must seize every opportunity to make things better.”

She indicated she would take a tough stance toward senior ministry officials involved in a recent fraud scandal, saying she might impose demotion and additional punitive measures. Some ministers have already been slapped with reprimands and pay cuts.

“I don’t think the issue can be solved with just pay cuts,” Tanaka said, referring to action taken in response to the January revelation of Katsutoshi Matsuo’s misuse of public funds.

She harshly criticized the ministry’s attempt to play down the case as an individual crime. “The bureaucrats are pretending they did not see what they saw,” Tanaka said. “They are putting a lid on the case.”

Matsuo, who was in charge of supporting prime ministers’ overseas visits, allegedly defrauded the government of 160 million yen, using part of the discretionary funds for personal purposes.

Tanaka said she is “committed to participate actively in the process of making a ministry reform plan,” set to be released in May, based on recommendations made Tuesday by a panel of outside experts.

The panel recommended reducing the secret diplomatic budget and strengthening the inspection system.

Tanaka meanwhile called the Japan-U.S. alliance the “cornerstone” of Japan’s diplomacy.

She showed a flexible stance toward, although not explicitly supportive of, Japan’s engagement in collective defense under the bilateral alliance. “There is a room to study from various perspective,” she said.

Exercising the right of collective defense is not allowed under the current government’s interpretation of the Constitution. However, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has shown a positive stance toward changing the interpretation of the Constitution so that Japan can exercise the right.

Tanaka said she hopes to visit Washington in summer or autumn as she has been invited by the America-Japan Society, a foundation for bilateral exchanges, to give a speech there and another city among Los Angeles, Seattle and Boston.

“I have accepted the invitation (before becoming minister) and I would like to (go) if scheduling allows,” she said.

On bilateral relations with Russia, Tanaka reiterated her stance that Japan must seek the return of all four disputed islands off Hokkaido held by Russia for a peace treaty to be signed between the two nations. She said she opposes an idea supported by some politicians and Foreign Ministry officials of seeking the return of two of the islands first.

“We need to talk about the sovereignty issue of four islands by going back to the basics,” she said.

Last month, former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and Russian President Vladimir Putin reaffirmed in writing the validity of a 1956 bilateral pact, which stipulates the return of the Habomai group of islets and Shikotan island after signing a peace treaty.

However, Japan and Russia remain apart, with Japan seeing the 1956 pact as a basis for moving the negotiations on to the remaining Kunashiri and Etorofu islands, while Russia wanting to put an end to the territorial dispute by the return of only the Habomai islets and Shikotan. The four disputed territories were seized by the Soviet troops at the end of the World War II.

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