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Japan moves to repair ties with SKorea at APEC
Updated: 2005-11-14 15:11

Japan and South Korea will hold talks as Tokyo tries to repair relations with Asian neighbours damaged by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visit to a controversial war shrine.

The foreign ministers will meet ahead of this week's Asia-Pacific summit in the South Korean port of Busan, where Japanese leaders are expected to get the cold shoulder from China over the shrine visit.

Amid rising tension with Beijing, Japan has sought to smooth out ties with South Korea, which like China harbors resentment over its occupation by imperial Japan in the early 20th century.

South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun has agreed to meet Koizumi on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, but has stressed he is only doing so to show courtesy to a guest.

Less than a month before the summit, Koizumi went ahead with his fifth visit since taking office to the Yasukuni shrine, which neighboring countries see as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.

The Shinto sanctuary honors 2.5 million Japanese war dead including 14 top war criminals from World War II.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said he hoped to speak "candidly" about bilateral disputes when he meets South Korean counterpart Ban Ki-Moon.

Aso is known as a hardliner on history issues and visits Yasukuni shrine. He was appointed foreign minister on October 31 in a cabinet reshuffle seen as a signal that Koizumi is in no mood to compromise with China in his final year in office.

Aso has already said he doubts he will get to meet with his Chinese counterpart Li Zhaoxing at APEC, let alone Koizumi meeting Chinese President Hu Jintao. But he said he wanted to make up with South Korea.

"I want to do my utmost" to improve relations, Aso said on Friday after meeting South Korean Ambassador to Tokyo Ra Jong-Yil.

"Japan needs friendly ties with South Korea, which shares the same values. That should also contribute to regional stability," Aso said.

Ambassador Ra also said he hoped relations would turn around.

"I hope the bilateral ties will improve, with the upcoming foreign minister-level talks serving as an opportunity," Ra said.

"There are many issues pending between Japan and South Korea, including Yasukuni and other significant issues related to history," he said.

"But there are also issues that require pragmatic discussions."

South Korea and Japan are both partners with the United States in trying to pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program, a topic also expected to figure prominently in the foreign ministers' talks.

It will be the second meeting between the foreign ministers since Aso took up his post.

Ban went ahead with a visit to Tokyo shortly after Koizumi's October 17 visit to the Yasukuni shrine, telling reporters that he was meeting Aso with "a feeling of depression."

Koizumi says he goes to Yasukuni shrine to mourn all war dead and reconfirm Japan's post-World War II pacifism. The argument is rejected by South Korea, which suffered a bloody occupation by Japan from 1910 to 1945.

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