Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will hold summits with China on Sunday and South Korea on Monday, his office said yesterday, moving to repair damaged relations with Japan's neighbors amid fears North Korea could be preparing for a nuclear test.
Deputy Cabinet Secretary for Public Relations Hiroshi Suzuki made the announcement hours after the South Korean government made a similar one. The Japanese announcement coincided with a statement out of Beijing.
Later, Suzuki said that Abe planned to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao (
"We intend to move forward in a future-looking relationship with our important neighbors China and South Korea by expending every effort to engage in dialogue and working closely together with them," Abe said in Japan's parliament before the announcement.
"The door has already been opened to summit talks with the leaders of both countries," he told the upper house.
The meetings, which mark an early success in Abe's oft-stated aim since taking office last week to improve ties with other Asian countries, follow North Korea's announcement on Tuesday that it could test a nuclear weapon.
The leaders are expected to discuss North Korea's latest nuclear threat, as well as bilateral issues "to overcome political difficulty that exists with both countries," Suzuki said.
"We feel this is quite significant for Prime Minister Abe to visit both China and South Korea soon after taking office," Suzuki said. "This will be an opportunity to talk face to face in a candid manner and it will surely lead to further strengthening of ties of trust and future-looking relations."
Tokyo has been at odds with both China and South Korea over territory, and over interpretations of Japanese wartime history.
Japan and China are also feuding over the rights to gas deposits in the East China Sea.
Amid deteriorating relations, the leaders of Japan and China haven't met since April last year, and their last full summit was in 2001. The leaders of Japan and South Korea haven't met since last November.
Abe, a nationalist who favors a more assertive Japanese foreign policy, also apparently succeeded in clinching the summits without publicly declaring that he would not visit the Yasukuni war shrine, visits to which are reviled by both China and South Korea.
Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, visited the shrine six times in his five years in office, enraging Beijing and Seoul to the point where they refused to meet with him unless he promised not to go to the shrine.
Abe, a firm supporter of the shrine, reportedly prayed there in April, but has refused to confirm that visit or to say whether he would go as prime minister. Unlike Koizumi, he did not pledge to visit during his campaign.
The North Korean nuclear announcement, however, illustrated the need for cooperation among the countries in the region to maintain stability. Japan, China and South Korea are part of the stalled six-party talks on dismantling Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.