Japan sends envoy to meet South Korea's president-elect in Seoul
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has launched a series of diplomatic drives to boost ties with neighboring countries, including sending an envoy to meet South Korea's president-elect Park Geun-hye on Friday in an effort to ease tensions over a territorial dispute.
Meanwhile, Taro Aso, Japanese deputy prime minister and finance minister, is visiting Myanmar, and Abe will travel to the United States as soon as this month as part of Tokyo's diplomatic push.
Observers said beefing up Japan's strategic interests in the region is Abe's top goal with Asian neighbors, and the traditional US-Japan alliance will be a cornerstone in Japan's diplomacy.
Abe sent his special envoy Fukushiro Nukaga to South Korea on Friday and asked him to convey to Park that "South Korea is Japan's most important neighboring country".
Still, the Abe cabinet said it may not sponsor an event to mark "Takeshima Day" on Feb 22. The countries are locked in a dispute over a set of islands that Japan calls Takeshima and South Korea calls Dokdo.
Park will "seek a balance" in handling South Korea's ties with the four regional players — China, Russia, Japan and the United States, said Zhang Liangui, an expert on Korean Studies at Party School of Central Committee of Communist Party of China.
Yonhap on Friday reported that Park is brooding over plans to send envoys to the four countries.
Feuds have also haunted Tokyo's ties with Beijing and Seoul over the issue of "comfort women", or sex slaves, during World War II.
"Park will not show considerable partiality to any of the four major countries, and given Japan's militarist past on the Korean Peninsula in the first half of the 20th century, the Park administration will hardly show preference for ties with Tokyo," Zhang said.
In Myanmar, Taro Aso told President Thein Sein on Thursday that Tokyo will provide 50 billion yen ($570 million) in low-interest loans by March after writing off Naypyitaw's overdue debt totaling some 500 billion yen by the end of January, Japan's Kyodo News Agency said.
Yang Bojiang, a Japanese studies expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said ties with Myanmar have been a part of Japan's post-war economic diplomacy, and the low-interest loans will help Myanmar explore its economic potential.
Japan's newly updated emphasis on ties with Myanmar "has shown considerations for its geopolitical strategies", and its bonding measures also resonate with Washington's plan to rein in China in the region, Yang said.
Abe will travel to the US for his first overseas trip later this month and meet President Barack Obama.
"The Japan-US alliance is the central pillar (of Japan's foreign policy)," Abe said in an interview with the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec 28.
Like his predecessors, Abe's diplomatic policies will continue to be based on the US-Japan alliance, and enhancements will be made in the alliance as well as Japan's diplomatic and defense policies, Yang Bojiang said.
The revision of the Guidelines for US-Japan Defense Cooperation, a major pact that defines the defense obligations of the two allies, is reportedly on their agenda this year.
"Meanwhile, Tokyo may seek to boost trilateral ties with its Asian neighbors and Washington," Yang said.
Feng Wei, an expert on Japanese studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, said the Abe cabinet will seek a dual strategy combining both hardline stances and softened approaches when dealing with neighbors.
The majority of Abe cabinet has displayed a hawkish position, in spite of the relatively moderate members including Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Feng said.
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