In the wake of elections that put hawkish leaders in power, Japan has reached out to South Korea in a bid to dial down tensions. Shinzo Abe, the new prime minister of Japan, sent an envoy to South Korea to meet Friday with Park Geun-hye, who was recently elected president.
"I'd like to act as a bridge to make this year a good one for both of our countries,” Japanese envoy Fukushiro Nukaga said, as quoted by the Kyodo news agency.
Park said she too wanted to rebuild ties, but urged Japan to “squarely face” its history. The closely watched meeting comes as the two countries spar over disputed islands and the sensitive history of South Koreans serving as “comfort women” for Japanese soldiers during World War II.
Ties between the countries have been badly frayed after the last South Korean president visited the contested islands, known as Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan. President-elect Park is expected to strike a similarly nationalist note in her dealings abroad.
Abe, in turn, has been quoted as saying that Japan should reconsider its apology for wartime suffering, made a trip to a deeply controversial shrine for its war dead, and denied that South Korean women were forced into sexual servitude, all of which left Park cool to the new Japanese leader. She had said she was too busy for a meeting Abe sought last month.
The South Korean foreign minister remained cautious before meeting with Nukaga on Friday, telling a group of former diplomats that relations with Japan was “a big challenge for Korea this year,” the Yonhap news agency reported. Passions over the dispute still run high: In one especially striking incident, a South Korean activist reportedly stabbed himself in the abdomen Thursday during protests at a Seoul airport over the Japanese envoy's visit.
The same protester rammed a truck into the Japanese embassy earlier this year.
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