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South Korea Hints at More Distant Relationship with Japan


One day before leaving on a visit to Japan, South Korea's foreign minister has suggested his country may scale back its ties with Tokyo. South Korea is angry over what it views as Japan's continued glorification of its wartime past. However, officials say Seoul will still work closely with Tokyo on multilateral issues.

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to leave Thursday for a three-day visit to Japan. On Wednesday, he implied that the visit might be a first step in a scaling back of ties between the two countries.

Mr. Ban told reporters it may be worth making a distinction between South Korea's one-on-one relationship with Japan, and its cooperation on issues of multinational concern.

Earlier this week, it looked like Mr. Ban might cancel the Tokyo trip altogether, in protest over yet another visit by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi last week to a controversial Japanese shrine. The shrine honors Japanese war dead, including men convicted of war crimes during World War II.

Mr. Koizumi has made repeated visits to the shrine since becoming prime minister, even though the visits invariably prompt protests from South Korea, China and other Asian countries that were occupied by Japan during the war.

Seoul says Tokyo has not done enough to apologize or compensate for atrocities it committed during its 35 years of colonial rule over Korea in the first half of the 20th century. They say Japan continues to sanitize and even glorify its wartime past in school textbooks.

Mr. Koizumi is due in Busan, South Korea, next month for a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum, or APEC. South Korean officials are now downplaying any possibility of a meeting on the sidelines of the summit between him and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun.

However, Foreign Minister Ban says South Korea will continue to cooperate closely with Japan on such regional issues as North Korea's nuclear weapons programs. The two countries will join the United States, China and Russia next month at a new round of talks aimed at convincing North Korea to end those programs.

Japan announced Wednesday that as a precursor to those talks, its foreign minister will meet with his North Korean counterpart next week in Beijing, the first such high-level meetings in a year.

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