Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is scheduled to leave Monday for a one day trip to South Korea, where he will attempt to mend strained relations between the two countries. The trip comes one week after the Japanese leader made a similar visit to Beijing and apologized to Chinese victims of Japan's wartime aggression.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi plans to hold talks with President Kim Dae-jung in Seoul Monday in an effort to repair damaged ties between their nations. The two countries, which enjoy a strong economic relationship, have deeply divergent views over history which color their stormy diplomatic relationship.
The latest tensions were touched off when Mr. Koizumi visited a controversial war shrine in August. The Yasukuni Shrine in central Tokyo honors Japan's war dead, including convicted war criminals from World War II. Japan colonized the Korean peninsula before the war, and his trip to the shrine deeply offended many in South Korea who have bitter memories of the Japanese occupation. Mr. Koizumi has said previously that the shrine visit was an effort to remind the Japanese public about the brutality of war.
Another point of contention is a series of allegedly distorted history textbooks which were approved by Tokyo for use in Japanese schools.
Critics say the books whitewash Japan's wartime past and make significant omissions. For instance, they do not mention the tens of thousands of Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II.
Asia analyst Robert Ward of the Economist Intelligence Unit says that these controversial textbooks have angered the South Korean public. "This textbook issue is the latest in a long line of slights that the Koreans perceive the Japanese are making, not just against them but against other people in Asia that suffered," he explains. "Given that the Koreans have a tendency to be very vociferous and aggressive in their protest, and not without reason, this issue has inflamed public opinion as one would expect."
Mr. Koizumi is expected to visit a historical site related to Japan's colonial atrocities in South Korea and offer an apology for the suffering his country has caused South Koreans. In doing so, his trip is expected to mirror the one-day visit he made to Beijing earlier this month. There, he apologized for his country's past aggression and visited sites related to Japan's invasion of China and that country's wartime resistance against Tokyo.
As with China, the Japanese leader is concerned with winning Seoul's support for a present-day matter: his efforts to increase the powers of Japan's self-defense forces to aid the U.S. led war on terrorism. In Seoul, as in Beijing, Mr. Koizumi will outline his efforts to get new legislation swiftly through Japan's Parliament to allow the Japanese military to provide logistical support to the United States. Japan's post-World War II Constitution bans military action except in self-defense.
Tokyo-based political analyst Takashi Inoguchi says a more empowered Japanese military is a great concern to South Korea and other Asian nations. He says Asian neighbors are worried about Japanese troops departing the country even if it is to support the United States, a vital strategic ally to both Japan and South Korea. Japan will attempt explain to Seoul that it need not worry.
Meanwhile, some South Korean legislators have expressed doubts Mr. Koizumi's intentions. South Korean National Assembly Speaker Lee Man-sup said Thursday that Mr. Koizumi's trip would be pointless unless he resolves the differences between the two nations and makes a sincere effort to forge a new relationship.
Three other legislators visited Tokyo Friday and said that the Japanese leader must make a clear and plain apology for his war shrine visit and stop approving controversial history texts, if relations are to improve anytime soon.