Visiting Japan lawmaker stresses importance of S. Korea-Japan ties

SEOUL, Aug. 9 (Yonhap) -- A visiting Japanese ruling-party lawmaker stressed Friday the importance of keeping friendly ties with South Korea as the two neighbors have been facing unusually icy relations over historical issues.

"Close neighbors are more important than distant relatives," Yoshitada Kounoike from the Japan's Liberal Democratic Party cited a Japanese proverb in a lunch meeting with South Korean lawmakers held in the local parliament building in Yeouido, western Seoul.

The proverb was picked as Kounoike emphasized the importance of South Korea-Japan relations as the two countries are set to mark the 50th anniversary of normalizing official diplomatic ties in 2015.

Kounoike is visiting South Korea along with three other fellow lawmakers under a next-generation leader exchange program run by the South Korea-Japan cooperation committee, in which politicians, government officials and business leaders from both countries join hands to promote bilateral collaboration mainly in the economic sector.

The four-man team entered South Korea on Thursday and plans to return home on Saturday.

The lawmaker, known to be a close confidant of Japan's Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, also called for more efforts to improve the frosty relations between the countries.

"I urge (lawmakers here) to give more encouragement to improve the South Korea-Japan relations albeit slightly," he said.

The reconciliatory tone, however, came a day after Kounoike's accusatory remarks during a meeting with the South Korean Assembly speaker drew a wild media backlash.

In a meeting with Kang Chang-hee, the chairman of the National Assembly, the Japanese politician cited a South Korean proverb "Nice responses follow nice initiation."

The local media widely interpreted his Thursday remarks as attempting to lay the blame on South Korea for the on-going bilateral feud.

The visit by the Japanese delegation comes as the two neighbors are facing exceptionally frosty relations over historical issues including Tokyo's renewed claim over Dokdo, the South Korean islets that lie about halfway between the two countries.

In 2012, the Japanese delegation from the joint committee held a meeting with then South Korean President Lee Myung-bak during its visit in October. This year's visit, however, was limited to contacts with local lawmakers and a vice foreign minister due mainly to the frosty relations.

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