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PM meets Asian ambassadors

TOKYO, Sep 4 – Japan’s incoming prime minister on Friday met the ambassadors of China and South Korea as his party looks to promote regional ties and its long-term aim of an Asian community.

Yukio Hatoyama — the leader of the centre-left Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which ousted the conservative government in a sweeping election victory on Sunday — also vowed a more muscular foreign policy.

"It’s been said that Japanese diplomacy is quite weak in multilateral talks," he told a Tokyo conference before meeting the Asian envoys.

"We should not have that reputation during the DPJ’s diplomacy. We want to contribute to Japan’s national interest and to world prosperity through cooperation between politicians, bureaucrats and the private sector."

Beijing’s ambassador to Tokyo, Cui Tiankai, and South Korea’s envoy, Kwon Chul-Hyun, later both visited Hatoyama, who is set to take over as prime minister on September 16, at his party headquarters.

The two envoys were the first Asian ambassadors to meet Hatoyama, 62, since his party’s landslide victory over the long-ruling conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of outgoing Prime Minister Taro Aso.

"We have expectations to advance the bilateral relations even further," Cui said after the meeting, declining to answer questions about lingering territorial disputes or to detail China’s view on an Asian community.

Kwon told Hatoyama, "I’m sure that our new partnership will be further strengthened under your political philosophy, fraternity," referring to one of Hatoyama’s main campaign themes.

Hatoyama replied that "Japan and South Korea are the closest neighbours. I’m quite confident that we can build new and close relations."

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The premier-in-waiting — who met with the US and Russian ambassadors on Thursday — has signalled his government would reach out to Asian neighbours and seek to ease distrust still stirred by memories of Japan’s war-time past.

Hatoyama wrote about "overcoming nationalism through an East Asian community" in an article that was published last month in Japan’s "Voice" magazine and later reprinted in condensed form in the United States.

While noting Japan’s security alliance with the United States would continue to be "the cornerstone" of Japanese diplomacy, Hatoyama wrote that Japan "must not forget our identity as a nation located in Asia."

"I believe that the East Asian region, which is showing increasing vitality in its economic growth and even closer mutual ties, must be recognised as Japan’s basic sphere of being," he wrote.

"We must continue to make efforts to build frameworks for stable economic cooperation and national security across the region," he wrote, arguing the region would also need European Union-style currency integration.

Hatoyama has also proposed that Japan build a new, non-religious state war memorial to serve as an alternative focus of national war remembrance to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.

Politicians’ past visits to the Shinto shrine, which honours 2.5 million war dead but also 14 convicted war criminals, have badly rocked Japan’s relations with China, the Koreas and other neighbours.

Hatoyama has said he would stay away from the shrine and ask his cabinet ministers to also refrain from visiting the site.

Japan’s ties with China and Korea soured badly during the 2001-2006 premiership of the LDP’s Junichiro Koizumi, who repeatedly visited the shrine, leading to a freeze of state visits between Tokyo and Beijing.

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Tokyo and Beijing have also locked horns over territories in the East China Sea in a tug-of-war over rights to develop gas fields. Japan also has a dispute with South Korea over a set of islands in the Japan Sea (East Sea).

Japan under DPJ-led rule will also need to cooperate with the Asian neighbours on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

US special envoy Stephen Bosworth is due in Tokyo next week after stops in Beijing and Seoul, officials said.

The two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia have been engaged in negotiations since 2003 aimed at ending Pyongyang’s nuclear drive.

North Korea quit the talks in April in protest at the UN Security Council’s censure of its long-range rocket launch that month.

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