(LEAD) (Yonhap Interview) Japan seeks 'new beginning' with S. Korea in 2010: Japanese envoy |
By Kim Young-gyo
SEOUL, Jan. 28 (Yonhap) -- Japan will seek a new beginning in its relations with South Korea in 2010, its top envoy to Seoul said Thursday, a hundred years after the island nation colonized the Korean Peninsula and began a bitter period of history.
"This year is very important for the relationship between Japan and South Korea," Ambassador Toshinori Shigeie said in an exclusive interview with Yonhap News Agency. "I hope this year will bring a new advance."
The Korean Peninsula, now divided into South and North, was colonized by Japan in 1910 and liberated at the end of World War II. But Japan's refusal to acknowledge atrocities that took place under its rule continues to strain ties.
"It is important for Japan to build friendly relations with South Korea by humbly accepting the truths of history, and yet the relationship must be based on future-oriented thoughts," Shigeie said.
The ambassador's remarks are in line with the foreign policy direction of Japan's new government. Yukio Hatoyama, elected in September as Japanese prime minister, has stressed forging closer ties with Asian neighbors.
In a summit last year, Hatoyama expressed a strong desire to improve Japan's relations with South Korea, saying "we must actively and positively look squarely into the face of history."
"During his visit to South Korea last October, Prime Minister Hatoyama had good talks with President Lee Myung-bak. They built up a trust, a friendship between each other," the Japanese ambassador said.
Shigeie stressed South Korea and Japan share many "mutual interests" in enhancing the future-oriented partnership.
"Japan and South Korean can pursue cooperation not only in politics, economic and cultural exchanges, but also in others such as climate change. The two countries can find some more concrete areas in which they can pursue common interests," he said.
The top Japanese diplomat to South Korea was optimistic about the future relationship between the neighboring countries.
"In a longer term view, Japan and South Korea are growing much closer," he said. "Some problems still exist, but (relations) between the people of both countries are more full of life than in the past. I would like to put more efforts into bringing the two people closer."
The envoy, however, did not give a direct response on whether Japanese Emperor Akihito would be able to make a visit to South Korea this year.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak invited the Japanese emperor to Seoul last year in a gesture of reconciliation and willingness to make a fresh start with Japan.
"The emperor's visit to Seoul is a matter to be examined carefully," he said.
Turning to North Korea, Shigeie urged the reclusive regime to take steps to resolve the issue of Japanese abductees in the North.
"The abductees issue is an issue of humanity, human rights. We can not over-emphasize the importance of the issue," he said.
Japan says that during the 1970s and 1980s, Pyongyang kidnapped a number of its citizens. Although only 17 Japanese -- eight men and nine women -- are officially recognized by the Japanese government as having been abducted, some suspect there may have been as many as 80. The North Korean government has officially admitted abducting 13 Japanese citizens.
North Korea returned five abductees after a visit to Pyongyang by then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2002, claiming the others had all died. Japan rejected the North's assertions, however, and called on Pyongyang to conduct further investigations into the fate of several others.
In August 2008, Japan and North Korea made an agreement in Shenyang, China that if Pyongyang made new efforts to reinvestigate the abduction issue, Tokyo would lift some restrictions on travel between the countries.
North Korea refused to toss out the results of its original investigation, stalling bilateral talks between the two countries.
"It is important for North Korea to conduct a reinvestigation as swiftly as possible, just as Japan and North Korea have agreed," the envoy stressed, adding his country will continue with other nations to pressure the North.
"The fundamental stance of the Japanese government is to expansively resolve the different North Korean issues such as abduction, the nuclear program and missile issues, in order to settle what happened in the past and normalize diplomatic ties," he said.