August 21, 2014 6:24 am JST

New Korean ambassador to Japan eager to mend bilateral ties

KIYOYUKI UCHIYAMA, Nikkei staff writer

SEOUL -- Former South Korean lawmaker Yoo Heung-soo, who spent his early childhood in Japan and has personal connections with Japanese officials, is resolved to help thaw the frosty bilateral relationship as he prepares to take up his post as ambassador to Japan.

     "I would like to play a role in normalizing chilled relations between South Korea and Japan," he said when told of the unofficial decision late last month.

     Born in 1937 in South Korea, Yoo spent his elementary school years in Kyoto. In fluent Japanese, he named as friends former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori; Fukushiro Nukaga, ex-finance minister; and Takeo Kawamura, the former chief cabinet secretary. He retired from the political arena a decade ago but was tapped by Seoul to become the top envoy to Japan.

     Yoo initially hesitated due to his advanced age when first approached about the position, but decided to seize "the last opportunity to serve the country." 

     A former national police agency bureaucrat, Yoo won a parliamentary seat in 1985 and came to be known as a conservative lawmaker. Under the government led by Kim Dae-jung, he was a high official in the South Korea-Japan parliamentarians' league from 2000, before retiring in 2004.

     During his first year in parliament, Yoo had an opportunity to share drinks in Busan with the late Shintaro Abe, who was at the time Japan's foreign affairs minister. His son Shinzo Abe, now the prime minister, was accompanying him as a personal secretary.

     Yoo will leave for Tokyo this weekend.