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Japan Looks to Improve Regional Ties in 2006


Both Japan's Emperor Akihito and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi ushered in 2006 with messages that touch on the frosty relations the country has with some its neighbors.

Emperor Akihito, along with other members of the imperial family, made seven appearances on Monday behind a glass-covered balcony, to greet more than 50,000 well wishers at his Tokyo palace.

The emperor expresses his wish for the happiness of the Japanese people in the New Year, as well as peace for the world.

In a New Year's statement released on Sunday, the emperor remembered the millions of people who died in the Second World War. He made special mention of the non-Japanese who died - the first time a Japanese monarch has paid such a public honor to foreigners who died in the fighting.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, in his written New Year's message, vowed to improve relations with Japan's neighbors.

Mr. Koizumi said he would advance friendly relations with other nations, including neighboring countries.

The emperor's reference to the foreign war casualties and the prime minister's comment on regional ties come as Japan's relationships with China and South Korea are at a low point.

Beijing on Saturday accused Tokyo of smearing China's image after Japan suggested that Chinese spies drove a diplomat at the Japanese consulate in Shanghai to kill himself last year.

This latest incident follows other spats between Japan and China. They include territorial disputes and Chinese anger over Japan's perceived unwillingness to demonstrate remorse for the destruction it caused in China before and during World War Two.

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon last month called on Japan's political leaders to correct their understanding of history and face up to the country's atrocities committed during the early 20th century. He called it regrettable that relations between Seoul and Tokyo are strained by historical and territorial disputes.