Japan's incoming prime minister said yesterday he would send a special envoy to Seoul to meet South Korea's president-elect, in an early attempt to mend frayed ties.
Shinzo Abe will send a senior official from his Liberal Democratic Party to deliver a letter to Park Geun-hye.
Relations between the two countries turned icy this year when a disagreement over disputed islands suddenly degenerated into a familiar dispute over attitudes to shared history, with Seoul accusing Tokyo of not being contrite enough for its wartime behaviour.
Abe's emissary will be former finance minister Fukushiro Nukaga, a senior member of the Japan-South Korea parliamentarians' league who is close to senior figures in Seoul, media reports said. Initial reports suggested he would leave last night, but it was later reported that the visit would be put off until at least next week. Abe is expected to become prime minister on Wednesday after a parliamentary vote.
Abe's sweeping parliamentary victory on Sunday was greeted with caution in South Korea, where newspapers pointed to past comments on reviewing Japan's admissions of sex slavery.
Park promised on Thursday to work on building trust in northeast Asia, but in an aside clearly aimed at Japan, stressed that stability had to be based on "a correct historical perception".
Abe is likely to visit South Korea in February if he is invited to Park's inauguration ceremony, the Yomiuri daily reported.
Victor Cha, director of Asian studies at Georgetown University in Washington, said Park and Abe had similar views on many strategic matters but the comfort women issue was a stumbling block.
"I think they could get along famously as long as some of these historical issues don't raise their ugly heads," he said.
"Frankly, the scenario that worries me is not that Abe is going to say something that's provocative, but that one of his people … will say something that gets blasted around the internet as being the position of the Abe government on comfort women," he added. "With Park Geun-hye as not only the first female president but the first female head of state in all of northeast Asia, that would be very difficult for her."