South Korea refuses to hold bilateral summit with Japan

South Korea has no plans to hold a bilateral summit with Japan on the sidelines of a meeting of Asian leaders in December, its foreign minister said Wednesday amid a lingering row over allegations that Tokyo is glossing over its imperialist and wartime past. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi plan to attend a summit of Asian nations scheduled for mid-December in Malaysia.

"At present, we haven't considered holding a (bilateral) meeting between President Roh and Prime Minister Koizumi," Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon told his weekly press briefing.

Relations between Seoul and Tokyo have seriously frayed in a series of disputes this year, including over Japanese school history textbooks critics say minimize the country's wartime atrocities and a visit by Koizumi to a shrine honoring Japan's war dead, including convicted war criminals.

South Korea, a colony of Japan from 1910-45, regards such moves as a sign that Japan hasn't truly repented for its wartime past, despite numerous apologies by its leaders.

After Koizumi's visit to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine last month, Seoul threatened to suspend high-level diplomatic exchanges in protest. But Ban went ahead with a scheduled trip to Tokyo and Roh also met one-on-one with Koizumi on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit held in the South Korean city of Busan earlier this month.

Seoul officials described the meetings as part of "indispensable diplomatic activities" that should continue despite the row. Last week, Japan angered South Korea again when its foreign minister, Taro Aso, said that only South Korea and China complain about Koizumi's shrine visits. Seoul expressed strong regret.

Although a summit is unlikely, Ban said he expects to meet Aso at next month's 13-nation gathering that includes the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, as well as South Korea, China and Japan.

That forum, called the ASEAN+3 summit, will be followed by the inaugural meeting of the East Asia Summit, which also will include India, Australia and New Zealand.

"I'm going to use spontaneous opportunities ... to exchange views with Foreign Minister Aso on his perception of history and to deliver the position of our government," Ban said. "I'm thinking of telling (Aso) that he, as foreign minister, should take a more cautious attitude and that would be helpful to resolving various pending issues amicably."

Two years ago, Aso infuriated South Koreans with remarks that Koreans voluntarily assumed Japanese names under colonial rule. Negative views of Aso worsened following allegations Tuesday by a government commission examining the issue of forced labor under Japan's colonial rule that his family ran a coal mining company, Aso Mining Co., which used more than 10,000 Korean forced laborers during the colonial era.

South Korea and Japan held talks Tuesday on locating and repatriating the remains of Korean forced laborers who died in Japan. Lee Jae-chul, spokesman for the commission, said South Korea also handed Japan a list of about 2,600 Japanese companies, including Aso Mining, asking Tokyo to see if they have records on their alleged use of Korean workers and if they are holding any Korean remains, reports the AP. I.L.

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