Japan's prime minister visits South Korea
By SHINWOO KANG,Associated Press Writer AP - 1 hour 52 minutes ago
SEOUL, South Korea - Japan's prime minister called for cooperation Sunday with South Korea to overcome the ongoing global financial turmoil as he began a two-day visit to Seoul.
Taro Aso flew to South Korea early Sunday and was scheduled to meet with President Lee Myung-bak on Monday to discuss economic cooperation and international efforts to end the North Korean nuclear standoff.
Since taking office 11 months ago, Lee has called for better ties with Japan and has held five summits with Japanese leaders. He resumed top-level visits, which were suspended in 2005 to protest former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated trips to a controversial Tokyo war shrine.
Lee has also said he will not demand a new apology from Tokyo over its 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean peninsula. Japanese leaders have repeatedly issued apologies over their country's past wrongdoing but many South Koreans say they are insincere and demand a new one.
After his arrival, Aso attended a business forum in Seoul where he said the two countries should cooperate to surmount the global financial crisis.
"Today, the Japan-South Korea relationship is getting closer and becoming one that is unshakable," Aso said through a translator.
South Korea and Japan are key trade partners with two-way trade reaching $82.6 billion in 2007.
The two countries have taken steps toward restarting stalled free trade talks _ which ground to a halt in late 2004 over disagreements on how much to lower trade barriers on agricultural goods. The sides held working-level meetings twice last year to prepare for reopening negotiations.
Aso said both Japanese and South Korean governments have been receiving requests from businessmen to reach the deal.
Bilateral trade has favored Japan with South Korea recording a nearly $30 billion trade deficit with Japan in 2007.
Yasuhisa Kawamura, deputy press secretary at Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters in Seoul that South Korea's trade deficit is "definitely one of the issues, challenges" that free trade talks have to address.
Earlier Sunday Aso visited South Korea's national cemetery honoring 167,500 Korean leaders, Korean War soldiers and other citizens. He paid a silent tribute and laid white flowers at a memorial.
Lee's diplomatic overtures toward Japan took a hit in July when Tokyo announced it would recommend that a government teaching manual include Japan's claim to uninhabited islets claimed by both countries.
South Korea temporarily recalled its ambassador in Tokyo and heightened security near the islets. Activists staged near-daily protests in front of the Japanese Embassy and many scholars and newspaper editorials demanded Lee toughen policy on Japan.
AP Business Writer Kelly Olsen in Seoul contributed to this report.
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