New Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun agreed Thursday to hold a summit in November or even earlier, taking a step to mend bilateral relations that have been strained in recent years.
But Abe’s being equivocal on whether he would visit Tokyo’s war-related Yasukuni Shrine, a main bone of contention with Seoul, may not be the most prudent tack for re-establishing formal top-level talks.
The summit topic came up when the prime minister phoned Roh to thank him for the letter of congratulations he sent upon Abe’s taking office Tuesday. Any top-level talks between the two countries would be the first since last Nov. 18, when then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Roh held a bilateral meeting at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Busan, South Korea.
Seoul refrained from engaging in bilateral summits since then in part because of Koizumi’s contentious annual visits to Yasukuni Shrine, which is dedicated to the nation’s war dead but also honors Class-A war criminals. The visits have angered South Korea and China, where memories linger over Japan’s wartime brutality.
“Japan wants to reinforce future-oriented ties with South Korea from a broad point of view — a view of Asian peace and flourish,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki quoted Abe as telling Roh on Thursday morning.
Roh agreed to hold talks soon, Shiozaki told reporters, adding the Nov. 18-19 APEC gathering in Hanoi may be an appropriate time.
Shiozaki meanwhile said Tokyo and Beijing still hold vice ministerial talks with an eye to arranging a summit. The last talks ended Tuesday in Tokyo.
Abe, however, has not yet stated whether he would refrain from visiting Yasukuni, fueling uncertainty over the chances of a summit with either China or South Korea.
Abe, who supported Koizumi’s annual pilgrimages to Yasukuni and has also often visited the shrine, the last time in April, has so far avoided saying if he will go again, as prime minister.
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