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Yoon pays respects to Abe in Seoul

President Yoon Suk-yeol pays his respects to former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a memorial altar at the Japanese Embassy in Jongno, central Seoul, on Tuesday afternoon. (Yonhap)
President Yoon Suk-yeol pays his respects to former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a memorial altar at the Japanese Embassy in Jongno, central Seoul, on Tuesday afternoon. (Yonhap)
President Yoon Suk-yeol on Tuesday visited the Japanese Embassy in Seoul to pay his respects to late former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

President Yoon arrived at the Japanese Embassy‘s public information and cultural center at 4 p.m. and entered the memorial altar under the guidance of Japanese Ambassador to Korea Koichi Aiboshi, according to the presidential office.

President Yoon wrote in the guest book, “I pray for the repose of the late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who devoted himself to the prosperity and development of Asia.”

“I also express my deepest condolences to the bereaved family and the Japanese people,” he added. “I hope Korea and Japan, closest neighbors, will work closely together in the future.”

After writing the condolence note, President Yoon told Ambassador Aboshi, “I was very shocked by the news of Abe‘s death. My deepest condolences to the bereaved families and the people.”

The presidential office said President Yoon’s condolences will serve as an opportunity to reaffirm that Korea and Japan are close neighbors and share values and norms. Also, the office hopes it will be a new starting point for Korea-Japan relations.

President Yoon visited the memorial altar following condolences offered by senior officials of the administration and legislature, including National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo and Foreign Minister Park Jin, the previous day.

The leaders of the ruling and opposition parties, including Kweon Seong-dong, acting leader of the People Power Party, and Woo Sang-ho, leader of the Democratic Party of Korea’s emergency committee, also visited the memorial altar on Tuesday to express condolences for Abe’s death.



Condolence diplomacy?



In diplomatic circles, expectations are cautiously raised that “condolence diplomacy” following the sudden death of Abe may provide momentum for the Yoon administration to improve Korea-Japan relations.

President Yoon also plans to send a delegation of condolences to Japan soon.

“Once the (funeral) schedule is finalized, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo, Rep. Chung Jin-suk (vice speaker of the National Assembly) and senior party lawmakers will visit Japan to pay their respects,” an official of the presidential office said last week. A private funeral for Abe was scheduled for Tuesday.

The main purpose of the dispatch of the delegation is to express condolences to Japan, but the prime minister’s visit is expected to be an opportunity to exchange opinions at the highest level on Korea-Japan relations.

On Monday, Foreign Minister Park Jin met with reporters after paying his respects at the memorial altar for former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.

“We will continue to make efforts to improve relations between Korea and Japan while paying close attention to the political situation in Japan,” he said.



Restoring relations remains uncertain



However, Japanese experts do not paint a rosy picture on the prospects for improving Korea-Japan relations.

They say Japan‘s political structure will move further to the right after Abe’s death and his party’s victory in the upper house election, which will negatively affect Korea-Japan relations.

Lee Won-deok, a political science professor at Kookmin University who is currently in Tokyo, said the atmosphere in Japan shows that the pace of improvements in relations between Korea and Japan is likely to slow further.

“On the surface, Kishida‘s influence -- who is known to be more dovish -- seems to have grown in some ways after Abe’s death. But internally, it does not,” he said, adding that an atmosphere in Japan has now grown to glorify Abe’s politics.

“Abe‘s political stance was the revision of the peace constitution, the strengthening of military power and historical revisionism,” he said. “The atmosphere of mourning for Abe is very strong now and Abe’s legacy is likely to be stronger although he has gone.”

By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)
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