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Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012

LDP mulling U-turn on Takeshima Day

Abe may scrap campaign pledge to avoid further riling South Korea


Staff writer

The Liberal Democratic Party may not sponsor an event to mark Takeshima Day on Feb. 22 despite pledging to do so during its election campaign, an LDP executive said Friday, in another apparent effort by party chief Shinzo Abe to improve strained ties with South Korea.

Abe, who is set to become the prime minister next week, is also sending Lower House lawmaker Fukushiro Nukaga as a special envoy to Seoul, reportedly as early as next week, in an attempt to smooth relations amid the sovereignty row over the South Korea-administered Takeshima Islands.

A senior LDP official said Abe directly requested Nukaga, a ruling party heavyweight and secretary general of a Japan-South Korea lawmakers' friendship association, for the sensitive task. Nukaga is busy arranging the trip and diplomatic schedule, and will reportedly be dispatched to Seoul with a personal letter from Abe to South Korean President-elect Park Geun Hye to propose the two hold a summit.

The LDP's Lower House campaign platform promised to sponsor the annual event to celebrate Takeshima Day and boost Japan's claim to the Sea of Japan islets, which are called Dokdo by South Korea.

Though widely labeled a diplomatic hawk, Abe appears to have softened his stance recently in the face of mounting problems at home and abroad. LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba told reporters that the new LDP-New Komeito government has yet to make a decision about when to hold a national ceremony to commemorate Takeshima Day, since South Korea only elected Park as president Wednesday.

"The new administration has to decide the best timing to do this while enhancing security in Northeast Asia. We have to take into account the moves made by China and the situation in North Korea," said Ishiba.

Shimane Prefecture, which Japan argues has jurisdiction over the rocky outcroppings, has held the ceremony every year since 2006 on Feb. 22, the date on which they were officially incorporated in 1905 as Japanese territory. Shimane passed a prefectural ordinance in 2005 to designate the commemoration day.

Officials in Seoul have reportedly expressed concerns over the LDP's election pledge, saying it will further exacerbate a bilateral relationship strained by departing South Korean President Lee Myung Bak's unprecedented visit to the disputed isles Aug. 10.

If Japan were to hold the commemoration ceremony, some speculate Seoul would find it difficult to invite Abe to the Feb. 25 inauguration ceremony at which Park will be sworn in as South Korea's first female president. Upon winning the South's presidency, Park, a ruling conservative party member, said correct historical interpretations are key for peace and stability in the region.

Another crucial issue is seen as the LDP chief's intention to back away from a 1993 statement by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, who admitted the Imperial Japanese Army's culpability in turning Asian women and girls into sex slaves — or "comfort women" as they are euphemistically referred to — and forcing them to work at military brothels during the war.



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