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China-South Korea Reject Japan Talks as Abe Pursues Dialog

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Jan. 6 (Bloomberg) -- China and South Korea rejected talks with Japan as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for improved relations a week after his visit to a war shrine drew an angry response from both countries.

Speaking at a New Year press conference in the southern prefecture of Mie, Abe said his door remained open to talks and urged his counterparts to take a similar stance. Officials from China and South Korea today signaled that there was little chance of improved ties in the near future.

“Holding talks with China and South Korea is extremely important for the peace and stability of the region. There is no prospect for summits at this point,” Abe said. “When there is a difficult problem, it is all the more necessary for leaders to open up and talk without preconditions.”

Japan’s ties with China and South Korea have been chilled by two separate territorial disputes since before Abe took office in December 2012. His Dec. 26 visit to the Yasukuni Shrine that honors millions of war dead, including convicted war criminals, was described as “disappointing” by the U.S. and prompted outrage in China and South Korea.

Abe said he wanted to explain his reasons for visiting Yasukuni as well as his thinking on reinterpreting or revising the country’s pacifist constitution and plans for Japan to take a more active security stance.

Cooperation ‘Shattered’

“I feel sorry that the environment for cooperation repeatedly gets shattered at a time when the cooperation between the two countries should be expanding,” South Korean President Park Geun Hye said at a press conference in Seoul today.

Abe’s visit to Yasukuni had closed the door to dialog with China because he disregarded the opposition of the Chinese people, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in Beijing today.

“We can see that although Abe paid lip service that he focuses on the relationship between China and Japan, actually he is a hypocrite,” Hua said. “He himself has closed the door of dialog between China and Japan. The Chinese people don’t welcome him.”

In Japan, the visit was opposed by a majority of respondents to a survey published by the Sankei newspaper today. At the same time, support for Abe’s cabinet rose almost five percentage points to 52.1 percent, according to the poll.

Military Expansion

China and South Korea have been wary of Abe’s efforts to expand the brief of the country’s military, which under the constitution can only act defensively and is even barred from coming to the aid of Japan’s allies.

Abe said he was “convinced” that other countries would understand his plans for a more active military stance if he were given the opportunity to explain carefully.

More than 1,000 Japanese troops were sent to help in the recovery operation in the Philippines after the Nov. 2013 typhoon. Abe also thanked Japanese Self-Defense Force and Coast Guard personnel helping to “protect international shipping from pirates,” and those involved in the United Nations mission in South Sudan.

The Sankei newspaper poll was carried out Jan. 4-5 and the paper did not give the number of people surveyed or the margin of error. The survey showed 53 percent of respondents did not approve of Abe’s visit to Yasukuni, while 38 percent backed the visit. The majority of those who disapproved said it showed a lack of diplomatic consideration, the paper said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Isabel Reynolds in Tokyo at ireynolds1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at rmathieson3@bloomberg.net

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