Japan’s envoy in Korea to ease tensions

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Japan has sent a special envoy to meet the South Korean president-elect in Seoul, its foreign ministry says, in a move to help soothe relations.

The envoy, Fukushiro Nukaga, is expected to deliver a letter from Japan’s new PM Shinzo Abe to South Korean President-elect Park Geun-hye.

The two states have been involved in an ongoing row over disputed islands.

Mr Abe was sworn in last month, while Ms Park is set to assume office next month.

Diplomatic relations became tense after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak made a surprise visit last year to the disputed islands known as Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan.

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North Korea also claims the islands, which consist of two main islands and about 30 smaller rocks, the waters of which are seen as valuable fishing grounds.

“As both Japan and South Korea have new governments, I would like to play the role of mediator so that this year can be a good one for the two countries,” Mr Nukaga said before he left Japan.

“Prime Minister Abe believes that Japan-South Korea relations need to be solid for the stability of East Asia. I want to convey that message.”

Ms Park had turned down an earlier request for a meeting with Japan last month citing her tight schedule.

Mr Abe had said earlier this week that he wanted to make a good start with South Korea.

The meeting between the Japanese delegation headed by Mr Nukaga and Ms Park was not expected to touch on sensitive issues, Yonhap news agency said.

The anticipated talks have been met with some protests in South Korea. One of the demonstrators, a 63-year-old man, stabbed himself in the stomach with a knife, Reuters news agency reports.

A South Korean coastguard detachment has been stationed at the disputed islands since 1954.

Both Japan and South Korea say they have long-standing historical ties to, and claims over, the island grouping.  –  BBC