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New South Korean, Japanese leaders seek fresh start
by Staff Writers
Seoul (AFP) Jan 4, 2013

South Korean president-elect Park Geun-Hye met Friday with the envoy of Japan's new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as Seoul and Tokyo sought a new start to a relationship dogged by bitter historical disputes.

Park called for future-oriented "reconciliation and cooperation" as she met with former Japanese finance minister Fukushiro Nukaga, according to her spokesman.

Nukaga had brought a letter from Abe who spoke of South Korea as Japan's "most important neighbour" and pledged his commitment to improving ties.

Park said the two countries should build "confidence steadily while looking squarely at history".

"From the beginning it is important to create a friendly atmosphere," she was quoted as saying.

Nukaga said the Abe government seeks a "good start" with South Korea's new government, the spokesman said.

As well as meeting Park, Nukaga held separate talks in Seoul with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan.

Relations between the two countries have regularly been strained by a territorial dispute and other issues of contention arising from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.

The territorial row deteriorated last year following a surprise visit by South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak to the disputed Dokdo islands, known by Japan as Takeshima.

It quickly degenerated into a familiar confrontation over attitudes to shared history, with Seoul accusing its former colonial ruler Tokyo of not being contrite enough for its wartime behaviour.

During his past stint as prime minister, Abe had angered South Koreans by denying the Japanese military's direct involvement in forcing women into sexual slavery during World War II.

In a slight twist to bilateral efforts to improve ties, Abe protested against South Korea's refusal to extradite a Chinese national who served a 10-month jail sentence for an arson attack on the Japanese embassy in Seoul.

Liu Qiang, 38, left for China on Friday, a day after a court ruled he should be sent home.

Abe said the refusal effectively ignored the extradition treaty between the two countries.

"It is extremely regrettable and I want to strongly protest against it," Abe told reporters in the city of Ise in central Japan on Friday.

Liu was arrested in January last year for hurling petrol bombs at the Japanese mission which left burn marks on the outer wall but caused no other damage.

Tokyo had sought his extradition in connection with a separate arson attack that also caused minor damage at the Yasukuni war shrine in Tokyo in December 2011.

The shrine is dedicated to 2.5 million Japanese killed in wars, including key war criminals, and is often seen as a symbol of the country's wartime aggression.


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