TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has sent a special envoy to Seoul, the foreign ministry said, in an early attempt to mend fences over a territorial dispute.
Veteran lawmaker and former finance minister Fukushiro Nukaga left Haneda airport on Friday bound for the South Korean capital bearing Mr Abe's message to president-elect Park Geun Hye.
"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 told reporters at the airport.
"Prime Minister Abe believes that Japan-South Korea relations need to be solid for the stability of East Asia," he said. "I want to convey that message."
Mr Abe, who took office late in December, had planned to send the envoy earlier but the dispatch was delayed due to Ms Park's tight schedule, according to local media.
The territorial row flared last year following a surprise visit by South Korean President Lee Myung Bak to the Dokdo islands, known by Japan as Takeshima.
It quickly degenerated into a familiar confrontation over attitudes to shared history, with Seoul accusing its former colonial ruler Tokyo of not being contrite enough for its wartime behaviour.
Tokyo hopes the dispatch will help lead to a fresh start under the countries' new leaders, and as North Korea's successful rocket launch last month renews regional security concerns.
Japan is engaged in a separate dispute with China over disputed islands in the East China Sea.