Politicians here expressed concern yesterday over Japan`s new cabinet, fearing the rise of far-rightists in the country may hurt Seoul-Tokyo ties as well as multinational efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue.
Two of the appointments made on Monday by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi were viewed as most worrisome - Shinzo Abe as chief cabinet secretary and Taro Aso as foreign minister.
Both have earned reputations here for making aggressive nationalistic remarks and attempting to glorify the country`s past military atrocities against Korea and other Asian neighbors. They are also known as staunch supporters of Koizumi`s controversial visits to the Yasukuni Shrine as well as sanctions against North Korea.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs refrained from making an official response to the Japanese leader`s choices, citing his decisions as a matter of internal affairs of another country.
However, Deputy Minister Song Min-soon, chief South Korean negotiator to the six-nation talks on North Korea`s nuclear weapons programs, said the reshuffle might have an impact on the upcoming fifth round of nuclear talks.
"Although politicians known as far-rightists have come into the front row of Japan`s cabinet, the country should not be locked in the past. Looking forward to the future (relations) and showing a responsible attitude would help Japan too," Song said on a radio program yesterday.
The next round of nuclear talks - involving South and North Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States - is expected to take place before the middle of this month.
In the past few years, Koizumi`s foreign policies, backed by a rising nationalistic sentiment among the Japanese public, have put the country at odds with its Asian neighbors. Particularly controversial have been his visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, which commemorates the country`s war dead, including 14 convicted class-A war criminals from World War II.
Koizumi visited the shrine again last month, prompting the Korean government to say it was considering putting off shuttle summits between President Roh Moo-hyun and Koizumi, as well as a separate meeting during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit this month in Busan.
Politicians here across the board criticized Koizumi for ignoring the sentiment of Asian neighbors by handing over top cabinet posts to such controversial figures as Abe and Aso and called on the Korean government to be prepared for a feistier stance from Japan.
"Koizumi`s cabinet picks are an open declaration of war on Asian neighbors and an indication of where the country is headed," Rep. Chun Yu-ok of the main opposition Grand National Party said.
Japan occupied Korea and many other Asian countries on its path to military colonialism for years before and during World War II.
Another opposition lawmaker, Lee Seong-kweun, said the decision reflected Japan`s "anti-Asian standpoint."
"It is turning its back on Asian neighbors, namely Korea and China, and instead prioritizing the ties with the United States above anything else."
Rep. Song Young-gil of the ruling Uri Party said, "Japan is able to push it this far because they know that the have the United States on their side. We need to put more efforts into making our voices heard in U.S. political circles, particularly on issues like shrine visits and history distortion."
By Lee Sun-young