Published : 2010-04-04 00:40
Updated : 2010-04-04 00:40
After months of renewed tension over a territorial issue, Korea and Japan are moving to put their often-prickly ties back on track.
Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso will likely visit Korea next month for a summit with President Lee Myung-bak before the launch of the Obama administration in the United States, signaling a full-scale resumption of the biannual summit between the sides.
"We will give more consideration to Japan`s position in setting a date for the summit, as it is them who have to pack up bags and come here," a senior Korean foreign ministry official said.
Korea`s presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said Tuesday that Tokyo has proposed a three-day summit from around Jan. 10, which falls on Japanese holidays. The Japanese prime minister is required to get approval from the country`s bicameral legislature for travel abroad when the legislature is in session.
Japanese media said Aso is seeking to improve ties with Korea before U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, whose Asia policy has yet to materialize, comes into office.
Japanese officials have a bitter memory of "Japan passing" during the Clinton era. Japan endured strained ties with the Democrats at that time.
"In the trilateral summit among Korea, China, and Japan on Dec. 13, President Lee invited Prime Minister Aso to visit Korea," the official said, refusing to comment on Aso`s possible political intentions behind his push to hold such an unusual New Year summit with Lee.
"We don`t need a lot of time to prepare for the summit since it will be held in a casual way to meet the purpose of the summit," he said. "An exact date and venue have yet to be fixed."
Seoul`s flexibility follows Tokyo`s recent move to drop the designation of Dokdo, the rocky islets at the center of decades-old diplomatic spat between the two countries, in its draft of a new teaching manual for high school students that was released on Monday.
Dokdo, lying in the East Sea between the neighboring nations, is effectively controlled by Korea but also claimed by Japan.
In July, the Japanese education ministry announced an educational guideline for middle schools urging instructors to teach in school classrooms that Dokdo`s ownership is disputed. The step ruptured the cordial mood between the two sides after President`s Lee`s trip to Tokyo just months earlier.
Seoul recalled its ambassador to Tokyo Kwon Chul-hyun for three weeks in protest and also rejected Tokyo`s offer of routine foreign ministerial talks on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum held in Singapore in late July.
Relations between Seoul and Tokyo have often been marred by disputes over history and territory, in part a legacy of Japan`s colonial rule of Korea from 1910-45.
Japanese and Korean leaders began one-on-one shuttle diplomacy in July 2004, but the exchanges stopped a year later due to South Korea`s anger over then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi`s repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which honors Japan`s war dead, including war criminals.
Meanwhile, Aso said yesterday he would not call a snap election despite opposition demands, saying he needs to focus on the country`s sputtering economy.
Aso, who took office in September, has seen his popularity plummet in recent months and the opposition has called for him to prove he has a public mandate.
Aso can dissolve parliament and call elections at any time, but he does not need to do so for the lower house until their terms run out next September.
Aso said that it was not the right time to call elections as he needed to monitor the economy to make sure it does not weaken further.
"We are not in a situation in which we can discuss such things," he said at a news conference.
The world`s second-largest economy fell into a recession in the third quarter, and signs since then point toward more misery ahead.
The latest outlook by the Cabinet Office projects Japan`s economy to shrink this fiscal year and manage only flat growth the following year.
Public support for Japan`s government has plummeted amid disappointment over the new prime minister`s economic efforts.
Surveys earlier this month by three major newspapers - the Yomiuri, Mainichi and Asahi - showed backing for opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa had risen above Aso for the first time.
The surveys, which show Aso`s approval rating hovering near 20 percent, signal serious trouble for the prime minister. He took the helm of Japan`s unpopular ruling party with a promise to revive public support and high expectations that he would call elections soon.
Earlier in the day, Aso`s cabinet approved a record-high budget proposal to battle the recession. Aso described the spending planas a "bold budget to protect people`s lives."
"I think the public understands the importance of implementing our plans," he said.