Aso indicates willingness to improve ties with China, S. Korea

Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso indicated his willingness Tuesday to improve relations with China and South Korea, emphasizing the three countries have been playing a major role in the Asian economy.

While Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's recent visit to the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine has strained ties between Japan and its two neighbors, "our basic stance is that the door for dialogue is already open," Aso said at his first press conference this year.

Given that Japan, China and South Korea have a great influence on the economy in the Asian region, "we have to maintain decent relations with each other," Aso, who is also deputy prime minister, added.

His remarks came as some lawmakers in the ruling bloc have been calling on the government to mend ties with the two countries, which have been criticizing Abe for the hawkishness of his foreign and defense policies.

Abe, head of the Liberal Democratic Party, has failed to hold a summit with either of the leaders of China and South Korea since he took office on Dec. 26, 2012.

Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Akihiro Ota, a lawmaker of the LDP's coalition partner the New Komeito party, said at a separate press conference that this year is an "important year" for resuming amicable relations with China and South Korea. "I hope many foreigners will visit Japan as dialogue will be promoted through tourism," he said.

New Komeito Secretary General Yoshihisa Inoue, meanwhile, said during a meeting between the government and the ruling camp Tuesday that Abe's administration should "make a concrete step toward improving relations with neighboring countries."

Abe and LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba were among the attendees at the meeting.

On Dec. 26 last year, Abe made a surprise visit to the Tokyo shrine, which honors Japanese war criminals along with millions of war dead, sparking criticism from various nations, notably China and South Korea, which suffered under Japan's past militarism.