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Friday, 22 March, 2002, 06:33 GMT
World Cup hosts stress teamwork
Japanese PM Junichiro Koizumi (left) with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung
Japan's trade with South Korea rose to $43bn last year
The leaders of Japan and South Korea have pledged to work closely to ensure that the 2002 World Cup is the best ever in the football tournament's history.

The two countries - whose relations have been frosty for years - are co-hosting the event, which runs from 31 May to 30 June.

Anti-Japan Protest in Seoul, 21 March 2002
Older South Koreans remember Japan's war-time record

"We agreed to make the World Cup finals the best tournament in history" said Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

He was speaking after talks in Seoul with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, which also covered trade, investment and relations with communist North Korea.

The two leaders agreed that Mr Koizumi would attend the World Cup opening ceremony in Seoul, while Mr Kim would attend the final in Yokohama.

They also agreed to approve temporary visa waivers for Korean visitors travelling to Japan for the matches.

Bitter memories

Many South Koreans are still bitter over Tokyo's harsh 35-year colonial rule which ended in 1945.

Yasukuni Shrine
Japan's Yasukuni Shrine is highly controversial

But feelings have warmed since Mr Koizumi's first visit to Seoul in October.

At that time, anti-Japanese sentiment was running high in South Korea. Mr Koizumi had angered South Korea and China last August by visiting Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine, which honours Japan's war dead, including convicted war criminals.

Japan also sparked a bitter row when it approved new school history textbooks which critics said whitewashed Japan's wartime aggression.

But Mr Koizumi has voiced hope that the World Cup will mark a fresh start.

"The World Cup offers a good opportunity for the two countries to deepen friendly and co-operative relations," he said.

"We must not allow such relations to end after the World Cup."

North Korea

They also pledged to coordinate efforts to work for dialogue with North Korea.

But Mr Koizumi cautioned that the issue of North Korean "kidnapping" was a stumbling block.

Earlier this month, Japanese police named an 11th person believed to have been abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s.

Tokyo believes the missing Japanese were kidnapped to train as spies or to teach agents the Japanese language and customs.

The BBC's Caroline Gluck
"They have promised close cooperation"
See also:

15 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan apologises to South Korea
13 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Anger over Japan PM's shrine visit
13 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Koizumi's balancing act
10 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Anger deepens in history book row
14 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan's controversial war shrine
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