S. Korea's next leader urges 'long-term trust' in Japan ties

January 05, 2013

By TETSUYA HAKODA/ Correspondent

SEOUL--South Korean President-elect Park Geun-hye stressed the importance of building trust in relations with Japan during talks Jan. 4 with prime ministerial envoy Fukushiro Nukaga.

Park insiders said the comment arose when a member of the Japanese delegation said: "President-elect, you are known even in Japan as the goddess of winning elections. What is your secret?"

Winning the people's trust was the most important factor, Park replied.

"Trust is also important in the relationship between South Korea and Japan," she reportedly added. "If there is a long period of trust, the relationship will not be shaken by minor problems. However, if the bilateral relationship weakens, the general public will become concerned."

In the closing days of South Korea's fiercely fought presidential election last December, Abe's Liberal Democratic Party released a package of policy proposals that alarmed Park's foreign-policy advisers as potentially unacceptable to South Korea.

One was to have the central government mark Feb. 22 as Takeshima Day, a name currently used only by Shimane Prefecture, under whose jurisdiction Japan considers the disputed isles belong.

The new administration has since shelved the proposal, but those close to Park fear Abe may yet steer Japan toward the right--a fear that may underlie Park's comment about the need for trust.

Park's team was surprised by Abe's eagerness to send a special envoy so soon after her election victory on Dec. 19. Nukaga, a former finance minister, is the first foreign envoy to meet with Park since her win, but China has explored a possible meeting, too, and Park is now scheduled to meet with Zhang Zhijun, Chinese vice foreign minister, on Jan. 10.

Park has to be careful about public opinion in South Korea. On Jan. 4, there was a reminder that many people still hold bitter feelings toward Japan when demonstrators gathered at the airport outside Seoul to protest Nukaga's arrival. One protester stabbed his own stomach with a knife.

However, at the same time, the new South Korean administration realizes there are major benefits to be gained through a broad-based strengthening of relations with Japan.

Sources close to Park said that was why she emphasized the need for greater trust in her meeting with Nukaga and called for building a future-oriented relationship after first squarely addressing historical problems between the two nations.

South Korean government sources say Shinsuke Sugiyama, director-general of the Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, is scheduled to visit South Korea on Jan. 17. He is expected to meet with Park and investigate the timing of a possible first visit by her to Japan after her inauguration.

Nukaga asked her to visit as soon as possible.

However, history suggests finalizing an itinerary may be difficult. Almost every March, South Korea has experienced anti-Japan protests over the screening of textbooks used in Japanese schools and over the choice of words in a diplomatic blue paper released at about that time every year, which generally refers to islets South Korea holds and calls Dokdo as Japanese territory called Takeshima.

By TETSUYA HAKODA/ Correspondent
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South Korean President-elect Park Geun-hye, right, receives a document from Fukushiro Nukaga, the special envoy of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, during their meeting at Park's office in Seoul on Jan. 4. (AP photo)

South Korean President-elect Park Geun-hye, right, receives a document from Fukushiro Nukaga, the special envoy of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, during their meeting at Park's office in Seoul on Jan. 4. (AP photo)

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  • South Korean President-elect Park Geun-hye, right, receives a document from Fukushiro Nukaga, the special envoy of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, during their meeting at Park's office in Seoul on Jan. 4. (AP photo)

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