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Japan and South Korea Fail to Agree on History: Roh

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun failed to agree on Monday over how to patch up ties frayed by disputes over their countries' bitter history, South Korea's leader said.  

Seoul is angry at what it sees as Tokyo's failure to face up to its militarism during World War II, symbolized by Koizumi's annual visits to a shrine for Japanese war dead as well as perceived lapses in a school history textbook in Japan.


Speaking to reporters at an outdoor briefing after talks in a guesthouse in the presidential Blue House compound, Roh said he and Koizumi spent most of their time talking about history.


"We had a very candid and serious dialogue and made efforts to understand each other," he said. "But this failed to yield any agreements."


He said the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea had a responsibility to lay the foundation for a peaceful future and history would hold them accountable if they did not.


Roh said he and Koizumi did agree to push for North Korea to return to six-party talks on its nuclear weapons programs.


Koizumi also spoke to reporters. Neither took questions.


"I told him that I take to heart the sentiments of Koreans about the past," Koizumi said of his talks with Roh.


"As for the issue of the past, we will reflect on the things that need reflecting upon as well as look to the future and discuss things directly, which is extremely important for building and strengthening trust and friendship between our two nations," the Japanese prime minister said.


Prospects for a dramatic turnaround in ties had appeared slim as Koizumi has shown little sign of accepting South Korea's request to stop visiting the Yasukuni Shrine where some convicted war criminals are honored along with other Japanese war dead.


Historical baggage


Roh said Koizumi had said he would consider another shrine without the historical baggage but made no promises. Roh also said the two men had agreed their countries would set up a second history commission to follow on from one that finished a two-year study a year ago.


Monday's meeting was the latest "shuttle summit." The first was last July, but unlike the past two where the leaders met at resorts without neckties, they had their ties on, a reflection of the stiffer mood. The leaders were to dine together later on Monday, and Koizumi was to brief Japanese reporters, too.


Besides Yasukuni, Tokyo and Seoul have a series of disputes stemming from their past, including a row over the ownership of a number of rocky islets and over a Japanese history textbook that South Korea says whitewashes Japan's wartime atrocities and its 1910-1945 colonial rule over Korea.


Sporadic protests marked Koizumi's visit. About 20 protesters burned the Japanese flag and rallied outside the Japanese embassy, calling for an end to visits to Yasukuni and Japan's compensation for individual victims.


Many police officers in full riot gear surrounded a central Seoul block and lined streets near the hotel Koizumi is using.


A survey released on Sunday found 57 percent of South Korean respondents believed matters concerning Japan's perception of history need to be resolved for a better bilateral relationship.


The poll, by Japan's Kyodo News Service in May, also found 82 percent of South Koreans opposed Koizumi's Yasukuni visits, and 75 percent did not have a favorable opinion of Japan.


But the survey, also carried out in Japan, found 41 percent of Japanese respondents opposed the Yasukuni visits, more than the 31 percent who said Koizumi should continue them.


Pressure on Koizumi to abandon the visits has been increasing even from his predecessors and ruling party members concerned about the damage to Japan's ties with Asian neighbors.


A fresh survey by the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper published on Monday showed 50 percent of Japanese voters who responded opposed Koizumi's shrine visits, while 41 percent expressed support.


(Chinadaily.com.cn via agencies, June 21, 2005)

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