06 June 2003
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has arrived in Japan for his first state visit there. Historical tensions between the two Asian neighbors are likely to take a back seat to formulating a joint approach on how to respond to North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
Much attention will be paid to an expected joint statement from Tokyo and Seoul on North Korea's atomic weapons quest. While President Roh and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will certainly both call for North Korea to abandon its nuclear programs, there are reported differences between the two leaders on how to respond if Pyongyang continues to provoke its neighbors.
On his first day in Japan, Mr. Roh got the royal welcome. On Friday afternoon, the Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko were driven to the state Akasaka Guest House to formally greet Mr. and Mrs. Roh.
The South Korean president saluted an honor guard and brass band from Japan's Self Defense Forces with Imperial family members and Prime Minister Koizumi looking on.
Invited schoolchildren waved South Korean and Japanese flags as the Emperor and Mr. Roh left the grounds for the Palace together in a black limousine marked with the chrysanthemum Imperial crest.
These scenes broadcast back to South Korea were viewed with mixed emotions.
South Korean media have noted what they termed the "cruel coincidence" that Mr. Roh would be toasting the emperor on South Korea's Memorial Day. Koreans regard the Japanese emperor as a symbol of Japan's imperialist past, which included the brutal colonization of the entire Korean Peninsula during the early 20th century.
Both Japanese and South Korean officials have been stressing that the theme of this visit is the future relationship.
President Roh, speaking at the National Cemetery in Seoul just prior to his departure, told his countrymen they cannot move forward if they stick to the angry feelings from the past.
The South Korean president says Japan is his country's second largest trading partner and both Seoul and Tokyo must work together to resolve the North Korean issue peacefully, as well as to help develop inter-Korean relations.
The four-day visit gives the Mr. Roh and Mr. Koizumi an opportunity to discuss, face-to-face, North Korea's nuclear ambitions ahead of a meeting in Hawaii next week of senior diplomats from the United States, Japan and South Korea on the same subject.
Besides the North Korean issue, the two leaders are expected to discuss a free trade agreement and the possibility of shuttle flights between Kimpo Airport in Seoul and Haneda Airport in Tokyo.