• Kyodo

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South Korea displayed signs of understanding Saturday for Japanese legislation designed to respond to foreign military attacks.

South Korean Prime Minister Lee Han Dong expressed his sentiments in a meeting with Japanese defense chief Gen Nakatani.

In a separate meeting, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Dong Shin said South Korea wants to discuss the matter with Japan through working-level meetings, according to Japanese government officials.

Nakatani said Tokyo will push ahead with the bills within the framework of the war-renouncing Constitution. The Japanese government submitted the bills to the Diet on Wednesday.

Concerns have been voiced in the South Korean media, however, linking the move to Japanese military expansion.

Nakatani and Kim also agreed to establish a hotline between the two nations’ defense agencies to exchange information on terrorism, as well as on hooligans at the World Cup soccer finals the two countries will jointly host between May 31 and June 30.

Nakatani proposed the idea, saying direct exchanges would be effective in countering international terrorism, although the National Police Agency will remain in charge of security at soccer matches in Japan.

Nakatani also explained to Kim the steps Japan will take to handle the case of a suspected North Korean ship that sank in China’s exclusive economic zone in the East China Sea in December after exchanging fire with Japan Coast Guard patrol vessels.

The two defense ministers also discussed issues involving North Korea. Nakatani expressed his support for Seoul’s policy of continued dialogue with Pyongyang and the policy of “sunshine engagement” advocated by President Kim Dae Jung, the officials said.

Regarding Tokyo’s allegations that 11 Japanese nationals were abducted and taken to North Korea between 1977 and 1983, Nakatani said the Japanese are greatly interested in the issue and that it must be resolved.

Kim showed understanding of the Japanese position. He also told Nakatani that North Korea has suffered from economic difficulties and must be closely monitored, although there is no change in the military situation.

Nakatani and Kim confirmed the significance of Japan-South Korea cooperation in U.N. peacekeeping operations in East Timor, which will gain full independence on May 20.

Nakatani’s visit to South Korea is the first by a Japanese Defense Agency chief since 1999, when then Defense Agency chief Hosei Norota visited.

Bilateral ties soured last year over the Japanese government’s approval of history textbooks that critics say gloss over Japan’s wartime atrocities. Ties also were strained when Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, which honors war criminals as well as Japan’s war dead.

Nakatani arrived in Seoul on Friday and is scheduled to return to Japan on Sunday.

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