Ex-Japan PM to visit South Korea in hope of easing troubled ties

A former Japanese premier will bring a letter from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe when he meets South Korean President Park Geun-hye during a visit to Seoul from Friday, a government spokesman, as Tokyo seeks a thaw in frosty ties.

Reuters| Last Updated: Sep 19, 2014, 09:59 AM IST

Tokyo: A former Japanese premier will bring a letter from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe when he meets South Korean President Park Geun-hye during a visit to Seoul from Friday, a government spokesman, as Tokyo seeks a thaw in frosty ties.

Yoshiro Mori, who acted as Abe`s envoy when the Japanese leader sought a breakthrough in relations with Russia last year, is expected to meet Park on the sidelines while attending the opening of the 17th Asian Games in South Korea.

On Tuesday, Park called for a "courageous decision" by Tokyo to improve ties between the Asian neighbours. Relations have chilled over the past two years largely over the issue of Korean "comfort women" - those forced to work in Japanese military brothels during World War Two.

"It`s true that Japan-Korea relations are deeply troubled ... the government welcomes the courtesy call on president Park by former prime minister Mori," Japan`s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters on Friday.

Mori has political connections in South Korea after serving as the head of a group of Japanese members of parliament promoting friendship between the two countries.

"We hope that this visit will lead to an improvement in bilateral relations," Suga said. He said Mori will carry a letter to Park but declined to comment on its contents. 

Abe has called for a summit with Park since becoming Japan`s prime minister but, apart from a trilateral meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in March, relations have remained chilly.

South Korea maintains that Japan has not sufficiently atoned for the suffering of "comfort women" and has protested against Tokyo`s review of a landmark 1993 apology, which acknowledged the involvement of Japanese authorities in coercing the women.

Abe also enraged Seoul with his visit and repeated offerings to the Yasukuni Shrine that honours 14 Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal, as well as Japan`s war dead.

The shrine is seen as a symbol of Japan`s past militarism.

Abe`s government has said it adheres to the 1993 apology but that there was no direct documentary evidence that Japanese military or government officials were directly involved in kidnapping the women. Abe has also said it is natural to pray for the war dead who sacrificed their lives for the nation.