Japan has sent a special envoy to South Korea, in an attempt to ease tensions over a groups of islands claimed by both countries.
The new Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe sent special envoy Fukushiro Nukaga to South Korea, to deliver a letter to President-elect Park Geun-hye. The topic of discussion between the two countries is a set of islands, known as Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan, which both countries claim as part of their territory. The islands are also claimed by North Korea.
Tension between the two countries over the status of the islands has been running high, since outgoing South Korean President Lee Myung-bak made a surprise visit there last year. The islands are currently occupied by South Korea, and come with valuable fishing rights for the surrounding waters.
“As both Japan and South Korea have new governments, I would like to play the role of mediator so that this year can be a good one for the two countries,” said Mr Nukaga, prior to leaving Japan. “Prime Minister Abe believes that Japan-South Korea relations need to be solid for the stability of East Asia. I want to convey that message.”
South Korean Protester Stabs Himself
A small group of South Korean protesters gathered at Gimpo Airport ahead of Mr Nakaga’s arrival. During the protest a 63 year old man stabbed himself in the stomach, before being disarmed by police. According to the Yonhap news agency, the same man rammed a truck into the gates of the Japanese embassy last year, prompting a diplomatic protest from Japan.
A Cautious Welcome
South Korean leader Park Geun-hye welcomed the overture, but also called for Japan to recognise its imperial past.
“At a time when a new government starts [in both countries] I hope we can make a mutual effort to build trust based on people’s sentiment and strengthen our bilateral ties in various fields,” said Ms Park, who had previously turned down a Japanese request for a meeting.
But she also added that “The two sides must have a correct view of history and pursue a future of reconciliation and cooperation. The older generation must make the commitment to try to heal the wound, and must not become an obstacle to opening the way for the future generation.”
This was seen as a coded reference to Japan’s Imperial past. South Korea has been seeking an apology, as well as reparations, for the large numbers of Korean sex slaves forced to work in Japanese military brothels.