중앙데일리

Japan hopes for ‘fresh start’ in Seoul relations

Sept 19,2009
TOKYO - Katsuya Okada, the freshly minted Japanese foreign minister, is “optimistic” about the state of Japan-South Korea relations, and looks forward to developing “future-oriented relations” with South Korea on his watch.

In an interview with South Korean journalists at his office here in the Japanese capital yesterday, Okada said the year 2010 would hopefully provide a fresh start between the two countries. Next year marks the centennial of the start of Japan’s colonial rule of Korea.

“With a new century of Japan-South Korea relations in mind, I believe we should develop deep and future-oriented relations between the two countries,” Okada said.

The 56-year-old is the secretary general of the Democratic Party of Japan, which ousted the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in a landslide general election victory last month. On Wednesday, Japan ushered in Yukio Hatoyama, the DPJ chair, as its new prime minister and Okada joined his cabinet.

Discussing the controversial historical issues that have marred Japan-South Korea ties, Okada lamented that some bureaucrats and even prime ministers have acted in ways that had violated the agreements within the Japanese government on historical matters.

Okada stressed that he and Hatoyama both believe Japan “must have the courage to face our history.” In his post, Okada will also have to deal with North Korea. Asked about the possibility of resuming the talks to normalize diplomatic relations with the North, Okada said there were preconditions.

One of them, the foreign minister said, is the resolution of the abduction issue. North Korea abducted Japanese citizens in the late 1970s and early 1980s, allegedly to train them as spies, and Japan believes more people were kidnapped than the official North Korean figure of 13.

Okada also pointed out that the North has defied six-party nuclear disarmament obligations.

“Under the current circumstances, there can be no bilateral discussion between Japan and North Korea,” he said. “The other members of the six-party setting [South Korea, the United States, Russia, China and Japan] must cooperate and apply pressure on the North.”

Okada kept mum about the possible visit to Seoul by Japanese Emperor Akihito. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has said the emperor’s trip would help improve relations between the two countries. But Okada said nothing had been decided and in any case, “The emperor must be politically neutral in all his deeds, according to the Japanese Constitution.”


By Yoo Jee-ho [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]




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