South Korean president-elect Park Geun-hye met on Friday with the envoy of Japan’s new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as Seoul and Tokyo sought a new start to a relationship dogged by bitter historical disputes.
“As new governments take office in both countries, I hope they will make efforts in various fields to build confidence... and close friendship,” Park said as she met with former Japanese finance minister Fukushiro Nukaga.
Nukaga had brought a letter from Abe who spoke of South Korea as Japan’s “most important neighbour” and pledged his commitment to improving ties.
“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,” Nukaga had said in Tokyo before flying to Seoul.
“Prime Minister Abe believes that Japan-South Korea relations need to be solid for the stability of East Asia,” he said.
As well as meeting Park, Nukaga held separate talks in Seoul with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan.
Relations between the two countries have regularly been strained by a territorial dispute and other issues of contention arising from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.
The territorial row deteriorated last year following a surprise visit by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to the disputed Dokdo islands, known by Japan as Takeshima.
It quickly degenerated into a familiar confrontation over attitudes to shared history, with Seoul accusing its former colonial ruler Tokyo of not being contrite enough for its wartime behaviour.
During his past stint as prime minister, Abe had angered South Koreans by denying the Japanese military’s direct involvement in forcing women into sexual slavery during the second world war.