South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has said he is willing to meet with Japan's prime minister despite the two countries' recent diplomatic row over the Japanese leader's visit to a controversial war shrine.
"Regardless of the issues, it would only be right to meet with" Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on the sidelines of a regional summit this month, Roh said during a lunch last Tuesday with foreign correspondents in Seoul.
Koizumi is scheduled to attend the Nov. 18-19 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in the South Korean port city of Busan, but no specific meeting between the two leaders has been set.
Koizumi enraged China and South Korea last month by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors war dead - including convicted war criminals executed by the Allies after World War II.
Seoul threatened to suspend high-level diplomatic exchanges with Tokyo after the visit, but South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon went ahead with a planned trip to Japan.
Ban has also agreed to meet his new Japanese counterpart, Taro Aso, during a Nov. 15-16 APEC ministerial meeting in Busan ahead of the leaders' meeting.
South Korea sees Aso as a fervent nationalist, and there is concern that his recent appointment could further sour relations.
Japan ruled the Korean Peninsula as a colony in 1910-45. It also invaded China in 1937 and is blamed for the massacre of about 150,000 people in the eastern city of Nanjing. Some Chinese put the death toll at 300,000.
Meanwhile, South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun told the foreign correspondents based in Seoul during last Tuesday's launch that he would propose that Asia-Pacific leaders tackle widening social injustice in the region during their upcoming summit in Busan.
He said the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum had until now mainly focused on removing obstacles to trade and investment.
"At the APEC summit, I will raise a new issue. I will propose making joint efforts to ease the serious social disparity growing within and between APEC economies," said Roh, who hosts the summit for 21 regional leaders on November 18 and 19 in the southern port city.
"As a result, poor people would be driven out of the market, leading the market to dwindle. Therefore, in the long term, the result could be one which is less favourable for doing business. And I think it would be better for us to be reminded of this point."
The APEC forum has identified cutting trade and investment barriers as its top priority for the Busan summit.
In another development, Japan announced that it would not hold further bilateral talks with North Korea unless the latter moves to resolve the cases of Japanese citizens it "kidnapped in the 1970s and '80s", a top official in Tokyo said last Tuesday. The two countries held full talks last week for the first time in a year, but progress was limited. North Korea wants normalisation of ties, but Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said solving the kidnapping cases was the highest priority.
"Unless there's progress on the abduction issue, we will not move onto the next round of talks," Abe told reporters. "The abduction issue is the most important problem, and unless we move toward a resolution of this problem, we will not move rapidly onto other problems."
Abe, who has called for tough measures against North Korea in the past over the abductions, did not specify what steps would be considered progress.
In 2002, North Korea admitted to kidnapping 13 Japanese citizens over the years and released five of the victims, saying the eight others had died in the communist country.
Japan, however, suspects some of those victims may still be alive in North Korea and has demanded proof of their deaths, while also pressing for investigations into other suspected kidnapping cases.
The bilateral talks are being held separately from the six-nation negotiations on North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.
The Asahi newspaper reported last Tuesday that Japan, South Korea and the U.S. intend to draft a "roadmap" to chart the dismantling of North Korea's nuclear programmes at the six-nation negotiations. The report did not cite its sources, and Japan's Foreign Ministry had no immediate reaction.
The newspaper said the roadmap would outline the timeframe for the complete elimination of the North's nuclear programs and steps to provide the North with economic aid, security assurances and diplomatic recognition.
The six-nation talks, which also involve China and Russia, have been ongoing since 2003 and are aimed at getting North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions.
The talks were scheduled for resumption in Beijing Wednesday (November 09).
The newspaper said the background for the current discussion lies in a difference in views between Washington and North Korea on whether dismantling the North's nuclear programmes or the provision of compensatory measures should come first.
North Korea has refused to dismantle its nuclear programmes without getting concessions along the way, while Washington has said it wants to see the programmes eliminated before granting rewards.