Japan PM Abe plots warmer ties with South Korea ahead of summit

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers a speech during the graduation ceremony of the National Defense Academy in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture on March 22, 2014. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe indicated on Sunday, March 23, 2014, that he wa
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers a speech during the graduation ceremony of the National Defense Academy in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture on March 22, 2014. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe indicated on Sunday, March 23, 2014, that he wanted Tokyo and Seoul to put wartime enmities behind them ahead of his first meeting with South Korean President Park Geun Hye. -- PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe indicated on Sunday that he wanted Tokyo and Seoul to put wartime enmities behind them ahead of his first meeting with South Korean President Park Geun Hye.

Relations between the two countries are at their lowest ebb in years, mired in emotive issues linked to Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule and a territorial dispute, as well as Japan's use of "comfort women" in wartime brothels.

Mr Abe left Tokyo's Haneda airport for a three-day visit to the Netherlands to attend a Nuclear Security Summit starting on Monday in The Hague.

On the sidelines of the event he is due to meet with Ms Park and US President Barack Obama after Washington urged the two Asian neighbours to mend strained ties.

"It is going to be my first talk with President Park Geun ye and I want to make it the first step to build a future-oriented Japan-South Korea relationship," Mr Abe said before leaving.

The three-way meeting - designed to discuss North Korean threats - is considered a diplomatic breakthrough as Mr Abe and Ms Park have never held a formal summit.

Mr Abe also said he wanted to "exchange views frankly on security in East Asia" with the South Korean and US leaders.

The Japanese prime minister will also take part in a meeting of Group of Seven leaders in The Hague to discuss the Crimean crisis.

Japanese media have reported that Mr Abe will announce nearly US$1 billion (S$1.27 billion) in economic assistance to Ukraine.

South Korea's Park is also expected to hold a summit with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, reportedly to discuss issues including curbing North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

Ms Park and Mr Xi will meet Sunday evening on the sidelines of the nuclear meeting, Ms Park's spokesman told reporters.

China is Pyongyang's sole major ally and economic lifeline and is seen as a key player in resolving the nuclear stand-off with the North.

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