SEOUL, South Korea – Japan's new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived in South Korea on Monday for a summit with President Roh Moo-hyun that was intended to be a fence-mending mission but was overshadowed by North Korea's nuclear weapons test.
Abe arrived for the summit, the first between the two neighbors in more than a year, just as North and South Korean media were reporting that the isolated communist regime had conducted its first test of a nuclear device.
"We must collect and analyze information to determine whether North Korea actually conducted the test," Abe told reporters upon his arrival.
A senior delegation official traveling with Abe, who assumed office two weeks ago, said the Japanese leader had no further comment.
Abe was in Seoul after a summit in China, where he and President Hu Jintao agreed that a test by North Korea would be "intolerable" and vowed to work to persuade Pyongyang to return to multilateral talks aimed at getting it to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
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Ties between Japan and its neighbors have been strained over his predecessor's visits to a Tokyo war shrine. At the first top-level summit between China and Japan in five years, Abe apologized for Japan's past aggression and vowed to handle the shrine issue appropriately.
Soon after arriving in Seoul, Abe paid his respects at a national cemetery. After that he was scheduled to meet with Roh and attend a banquet before flying back to Tokyo Monday night.
Abe put South Korea and China atop his agenda to defuse tensions over the Yasukuni war shrine and disputes over several small islands. His efforts were welcomed in Beijing, where President Hu Jintao said Abe's decision to seek talks so soon after taking office was a "turning point" that will lead to improved ties.
Abe refused say whether he intends to follow the example of his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi and visit the shrine during his tenure, but he vowed to "act appropriately" and stressed he was aware of the concerns of those in China and elsewhere who see the shrine as a symbol of Japan's militarist past.
He was expected to offer a similar explanation to Roh.
Japan had loudly protested North Korea's announcement last week that it planned a test. South Korea had also called on the North not to test, but Seoul has said it will continue its policy of engagement with its communist neighbor.
South Korea has also been angered by Japanese claims over a set of islets it controls in waters between the countries -- called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese. Earlier this year, Seoul sent gunboats to fend off Japanese plans to survey the area, but the potential naval standoff was diffused after a last-minute compromise.
Japan ruled South Korea as a colony from 1910-45, and many Koreans harbor bitterness over ill treatment they suffered.