Tue, Aug 08, 2006 - Page 4 News List

S Korean minister to meet Aso and Abe

SHRINE TALKS Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon reportedly will urge Abe, Japan's chief Cabinet secretary and frontrunner to replace Koizumi, not to visit Yasukuni again

AFP , TOKYO

South Korea's foreign minister was due to arrive in Tokyo late last night and to meet Shinzo Abe, the front-runner to become premier who has angered Seoul by visiting a controversial war shrine, officials said.

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, who is also a candidate to become UN secretary-general, will attend a funeral today for former Japanese prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, officials in Tokyo and Seoul said.

Ban is due to hold talks today with Foreign Minister Taro Aso and tomorrow with Abe, the chief Cabinet secretary.

"What's important would be for us to talk, trying to understand each other's views," Abe told reporters. "I'm looking forward to meeting him even if it is for a short time."

South Korea's Yonhap's news agency said Ban would urge Abe not to go again to the Yasukuni war shrine.

Incumbent Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to the shrine have hurt bilateral relations as it is seen by South Korea and China as a symbol of Japan's militarist past.

Abe has refused to comment on Japanese media reports that he paid a secret pilgrimage there on April 15. South Korea's foreign ministry called the reported visit "very regrettable."

China and South Korea, which hold bitter memories over Japanese occupation, have refused to hold summits with Koizumi due to his annual pilgrimage.

Koizumi has signaled he may go again to Yasukuni shrine next Tuesday, the anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II, in a visit sure to inflame tensions with neighboring countries.

Koizumi steps down next month, with his Liberal Democratic Party holding an internal vote on Sept. 20 to determine his successor.

Aso and Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, who are also seeking to become premier, have signaled caution on visiting the shrine.

A poll published yesterday said most Japanese and South Koreans distrust their neighbor, due both to the Yasukuni issue and a dispute over small islands in the Sea of Japan.

Some 51 percent of Japanese said they did not trust South Korea, up 17 percentage points from last year, compared with 43 percent who trusted their neighbor.

An overwhelming 89 percent of South Koreans said Japan was untrustworthy, said the poll carried out jointly by Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun and South Korea's Hankook Ilbo.

The survey showed the deepest mistrust between the East Asian neighbors since it was first taken in 1995.

The poll also showed a gap in perception over North Korea, with 87 percent of Japanese feeling endangered by the communist state's nuclear program, against 59 percent of South Koreans.

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