In an effort to start mending ties with South Korea, newly elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is sending Fukushiro Nukaga, a former finance minister with strong ties to the country, to meet with President-elect Park Geun-hye and deliver a personal letter from Abe himself.
The sending of a special envoy signals Abe’s desire to fix the current tense relationships between the two countries, which have been aggravated by the territorial control issues over the Takeshima/Dokdo Islands and the long-existing World War II legacy issues. The two share strong economic ties and share political and security outlooks, but these are being threatened by these spats. The meeting will obviously not produce results, but is a grand gesture by Abe, who asked Nukaga to tell President Park that “South Korea is Japan’s most important neighbor.” Park will officially take office in February, so any solid plans or measures for stronger bilateral ties would have to wait until then.
This conciliatory gesture by Abe is in direct contrast with his stand before and during the election campaign. His Liberal Democratic Party targeted national sentiment in taking a hard stance against countries with which Japan is having territorial disputes (South Korea, China, Russia). But policy watchers were already predicting that once Abe was elected, he will aim to prevent the disputes from escalating by coming up with reasonable policies. During his time as Prime Minister in 2006, he immediately visited China days after he was elected in order to fix diplomatic relations that frayed during his predecessor’s term. This time around though, he will probably have a tougher time with South Korea, where he is remembered for his controversial statement in 2007. He then said that there was not enough evidence that the Japanese military forced Korean women into being their sex slaves during the occupation in World War II. The uproar caused by this statement led to the US Congress to pass a resolution demanding that Japan apologize for their WWII abuses.
[ via Wall Street Journal ]