The newly appointed South Korean ambassador to Japan on Friday indirectly urged Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to abstain from visiting Yasukuni Shrine in August, a visit which strained Tokyo-Seoul relations last year.

Cho Se Hyung, who assumed his post last month, said that he is aware of Japanese media reports that Koizumi is unlikely to visit Yasukuni on Aug. 15, the day Japan surrendered at the end of World War II. Yasukuni honors Class A war criminals alongside the nation’s war dead.

“I hope (the Yasukuni) issue will not cause an unnecessary misunderstanding and friction,” he told reporters at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, adding that he hopes an alternative memorial for the nation’s war dead will be established.

Despite last year’s diplomatic friction, Cho said bilateral relations have been improved by a series of talks between Koizumi and President Kim Dae Jung. He also added that the nations’ cohosting of the World Cup soccer finals this year will offer a “golden opportunity” to further improve ties.

An agreement between the two leaders last month to initiate a government-led study into a bilateral free-trade agreement was one symbolic event, Cho said.

“Business and academic circles in both countries have already given a go-sign for the FTA,” he said. “So it will ultimately lead to formal negotiations between the two governments.

“If (South) Korea and Japan can remove all the tariff and nontariff barriers and create a single market, it will bring a revolutionary change in the long history of bilateral relations.”

Cho was also optimistic about South Korea completely lifting a ban on Japanese cultural products.

On North Korea, Cho revealed that Seoul’s special envoy Lim Dong Won was told by North Korean officials during his visit to Pyongyang earlier this month that Kim Dae Jung’s engagement policy should be continued regardless of who triumphs in the South Korean presidential election in December.

He also said North Korea’s move to resume talks with Japan later this month over the alleged abductions of Japanese citizens is a “good sign that shows a change of stance in North Korea,” and that he hopes it will lead to continued negotiations between Japan and North Korea.

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