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LEAD: Aso vows to deepen Japan's ties with China, S. Korea amid shrine row+
[January 20, 2006]

LEAD: Aso vows to deepen Japan's ties with China, S. Korea amid shrine row+

(Japan Economic Newswire Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)TOKYO, Jan. 20_(Kyodo) _ (EDS: UPDATING WITH OFFICIAL TRANSLATION OF SPEECH, REMARKS ON U.S., RUSSIA, IRAN)

Foreign Minister Taro Aso vowed Friday to strengthen Japan's relations with China and South Korea under the spirit of reconciliation, cooperation and dialogue amid their strained ties over Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to the war-related Yasukuni Shrine.

Speaking at the outset of the 150-day ordinary Diet session, Aso also reiterated Japan's basic stance not to normalize diplomatic ties with North Korea unless various issues of concern, including North Korea's past abductions of Japanese nationals, are resolved.

On Japan's failed bid to secure a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, Aso indicated that Japan has not given up such a bid as he expressed determination to continue to work with India, Germany and Brazil, the three other aspirants, and discuss the matter with the United States. In addition, Japan will "direct its efforts to dialogue" with China, South Korea and other neighboring countries on the matter.

As for Japan's foreign aid, known as official development assistance, Aso called for reviewing and enhancing the current ODA system under the leadership of the premier and under the direction of the ministry, given that the ODA is an important diplomatic tool.

"Looking to the future, Japan will endeavor to further strengthen the friendly and cooperative relationship with both the Republic of Korea and China. This is Japan's unshakeable fundamental policy," Aso said in his first policy speech at the Diet since taking office in October.

Visits to the Shinto shrine, which honors convicted Class-A war criminals from World War II along with the war dead, have especially angered China and South Korea which suffered from Japanese aggression before and during the war.

Since Koizumi made his most recent visit to the shrine on Oct. 17, Chinese leaders have refused to hold any summit talks with him, and South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun called off a planned reciprocal visit last month to Japan.

Aso said the Japanese people seriously take to heart the sentiments of the Chinese and South Korean people regarding the past, making a particular appeal to China to overcome such issues.

"We Japanese take most seriously the feelings of Chinese nationals concerning history and we intend to call on the Chinese people to build a relationship with Japan whereby the two countries, without dwelling unduly on past issues, and seeing things in broad perspective, concentrate their efforts on the basis of our mature friendship," he said.

He expressed hope for Sino-Japanese ties to be linked by the "desire to strive together to address the challenges posed by a broad range of global and regional issues."

China has been more vociferous in its protests over the shrine issue and has also locked horns with Japan over a dispute involving oil and gas development in the East China Sea. It was also in China where massive anti-Japan protests broke out in April last year over Japan's approval of nationalist history textbooks and other sensitive issues.

Aso also said Japan would welcome Chinese efforts to assume a more responsible role in the political and economic arenas by embracing the universal values of democracy and human rights, apparently referring to China's communist state and international concerns over Beijing's human rights violations.

Aso has repeatedly drawn a line between China and South Korea by referring to South Korea as a country with which Japan shares the values of democracy and the market economy.

On South Korea, he said, "Japan intends to respond sincerely to various issues related to the past from a humanitarian viewpoint, taking seriously Republic of Korea nationals' sentiments concerning the past."

As for North Korea, Aso said Japan will elicit a "sincere response" from Pyongyang on issues of bilateral concern under Japan's basic policy of "dialogue and pressure," especially over the abduction issue, which is the major obstacle to the two nations' plan to normalize ties.

North Korea insists the abduction issue has been resolved, while Japan maintains that it has not.

As a way to move such issues forward, Japan and North Korea agreed during talks in Beijing in December on the new format for negotiations which is to create three working groups for separate, parallel discussions on various pending issues.

Aso renewed Japan's vow to begin holding such negotiations in the "near future," and said Japan was also committed to seeking an early resumption of the stalled six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program.

The six-party talks -- which bring together the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia -- are stalled as North Korea refuses to return to the table unless the United States lifts its economic sanctions over North Korean entities' alleged money laundering and other illicit activities.

Going beyond its East Asian sphere, Aso played down Japan's failed Security Council bid, saying, "Although the road to permanent membership on the Security Council may be a winding and treacherous one, our campaign triggered substantive discussions on Security Council reform" involving all U.N. member states.

He was referring to the resolution by Japan, Brazil, Germany and India under the so-called Group of Four framework to expand the Security Council. They decided not to put the resolution to a vote due to a lack of support from other U.N. members.

He called for U.N. reforms to include a "review of the scale of assessments so that the status and responsibilities of member states are duly taken into account."

His call comes amid views that Japan should review its current contribution to the regular U.N. budget, which is about 20 percent and second only to the United States, following its failed Security Council bid.

Describing Japan's strong bilateral alliance with the United States as the "linchpin of Japan's foreign policy," Aso underscored the importance of the realignment of U.S. military presence in Japan.

Tokyo and Washington are crafting implementation plans on the realignment issue by March as agreed upon in an accord between Tokyo and Washington last October, but prospects remain uncertain due to strong local opposition.

Using the upcoming summit of the Group of Eight nations as an "opportunity," Aso also expressed resolve to "pursue even more vigorous dialogues" with Russia toward resolving Japan's longtime island dispute with Russia over the sovereignty of Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group.

Aso, meanwhile, urged a peaceful resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue.

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