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(News Focus) Seoul-Tokyo ties to remain strained for time being
SEOUL, March 1 (Yonhap) -- In spite of leadership changes in both South Korea and Japan, efforts to mend frayed bilateral ties are likely to be bogged down for the time being and prospects for better relations will depend on how Japan responds to historical and territorial issues.

   Relations between Seoul and Tokyo have chilled following an unprecedented visit to the South Korean islets of Dokdo last August by the South's former President Lee Myung-bak, who cited Tokyo's unrepentant attitude over its brutal 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula as a key reason for his trip.

   Although Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has voiced hope for repairing ties with South Korea, Tokyo has continued to anger Seoul by renewing its claim to Dokdo, even after South Korea sworn in new President Park Geun-hye early this week.

   On Thursday, Seoul's foreign ministry expressed "strong regrets" over remarks by Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who raised an "unfair argument" about Dokdo in his parliamentary speech renewing Japan's claim to Dokdo.

   Kishida said his government will make strenuous efforts in its territorial claim to Dokdo, while calling for future-oriented ties with South Korea.

   Reflecting Seoul's frustration over Tokyo having no intention to repent for its historical and territorial issues, Park urged Japan on Friday to "have a correct understanding of history and take on an attitude of responsibility in order to partner with us."

   Park issued the appeal in an address marking Korea's 1919 nationwide uprising against Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule. The speech was watched closely as it came just days after her inauguration and could set the tone for relations between the two countries.

   "Only then will we be able to build rock-solid trust between our two nations, which will in turn enable reconciliation and collaboration in a genuine sense," Park said.

   Dokdo, which lies closer to South Korea in the body of water between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, has long been a thorn in relations between the two countries. South Korea keeps a small police detachment on the islets.

   In South Korea, memories are still fresh over Japan's harsh colonial, which left deep scars on the hearts of Koreans as they were banned from using their own language at schools and forced to adopt Japanese names. Hundreds of thousands of Koreans were also mobilized as forced laborers and sex slaves, euphemistically called "comfort women."

   In a commentary, Victor Cha, a former senior Asia adviser to former U.S. president George W. Bush, said, "In the interim, the Park government's reaction to the next time bomb in bilateral relations -- revisions of history textbooks (by Japan) -- later next month will be an indicator of the direction in relations."

   Cha said, however, that Park would eventually try to mend ties with Japan in the face of North Korea's nuclear brinkmanship and the rise of China.

   "The new South Korean president understands the importance of strong U.S.-Japan-ROK (South Korea) ties and at a personal level has affinity for Japan," Cha said.

   "There is also a sense in Seoul that Abe will 'behave' on historical and territorial issues until the Upper House elections this summer."

  (END)
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