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Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Roh seeks relationship free of history's shadows


Staff writer

South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun told the Diet on Monday that Japan and South Korea should be "free of the shadow of historical issues" and should emphasize future-oriented ties.

But Roh, whose behavior is being monitored by his domestic political adversaries, also said in his speech in the House of Representatives that South Korea and other Asian countries harbor "anxieties and doubts" over the ongoing debate here concerning national security legislation, along with moves in some quarters to revise the war-renouncing Constitution.

If such anxieties and doubts are not "groundless" nor solely based on emotions, then "it also signifies that Japan has yet been unable to fully complete all the homework that it has been unable to take care of in the past," Roh said.

Despite the amicable overall atmosphere of his state visit and his insistence on pursuing a future-oriented agenda, Roh's allusion to these concerns was viewed as evidence the bilateral relationship still cannot be discussed without the reminder that Japan must face up to its past aggression in Asia and colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

"When my visit to Japan was scheduled, many people asked me: 'How will you deal with past historical issues?' But today, I'd like to talk about issues that transcend this question," Roh, the first South Korean president to be born after World War II, told the lawmakers.

Roh stressed the importance of the Japan-South Korea trade partnership and the importance of exchanges among young people.

He added that his government may further open the South Korean economy to Japanese cultural products, while urging that permanent Korean residents in Japan be given local voting rights.

Turning to issues surrounding North Korea, the president reiterated his intolerance of Pyongyang's possession of nuclear weapons while stressing the need to achieve a peaceful solution through dialogue.

"North Korea must now renounce nuclear (weapons) and start walking on the path of openness and coexistence," Roh said. "If North Korea chooses this road, the international community, including South Korea and Japan, will not hesitate to give necessary assistance."

He avoided using the word "pressure" when citing North Korea-related matters, apparently reflecting a softer approach toward Pyongyang than that of Japan and the United States.

"Dialogue and pressure" is a phrase that Tokyo and Washington have used to explain their diplomatic approach toward North Korea.

Roh left Tokyo's Haneda airport on his journey home Monday afternoon, having arrived in Japan on Friday.

The Diet enacted on Friday a historic set of war-contingency bills that had long been a taboo for Japanese lawmakers, given the legacy of militarism established before and during World War II.

Koizumi 'interviewed' Kyodo News South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun told reporters Monday he "interviewed" Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi about North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during their talks.

In this regard, Roh said he was collecting information about the Japan-North Korea summit held last September.

Roh, who has never met Kim, said, "The talks (with Koizumi) about General Secretary Kim were very important and beneficial for me." He declined to elaborate.

Pyongyang acknowledged in September that it had abducted or lured 13 Japanese to North Korea in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and that eight of these had since died.

The other five returned to Japan last year.

Roh said that he and Koizumi has common personality traits.

"I understand that I have emotional shortcomings in which I get agitated while I talk and disturb people's feelings, but I felt relieved to see Prime Minister Koizumi having a similar tendency as myself," he said.

Roh said he was advised by Yasuhiro Nakasone, who was prime minister from 1982 to 1987, to hold a trilateral summit involving South Korea, China and Japan and to propose an economic structural reform plan.

Roh said Nakasone, who is a Liberal Democratic Party member of the House of Representatives, seemed different from the image he projected in the 1980s, when Roh perceived him as being very conservative.



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The Japan Times

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