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UN chief targets strained ties in Asia

On tour, Kofi Annan is visiting Korea, Japan, and China in a bid for better dialogue in the region.

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As UN Secretary General Kofi Annan wends his way through Asia's "triangular relationship" of Korea, Japan, and China, he's getting an earful of 19th- and 20th-century grievances. Conflicts over history, disputes over territory, nationalist pride, and energy hunger are amplifying and playing off each other in northeast Asia - continuing deep but often invisible rifts here.

Currently, Roh Moo-hyun and Hu Jintao, heads of state of Korea and China, are not meeting regularly with Junichiro Koizumi, the Japanese head of state.

In some ways Mr. Annan, whose Asia trip may be his last as UN head, is approaching east Asia like a marriage counselor. He will meet all three heads of state, has said the three nations are neighbors "bound to live together," and that a crucial need is to be "truthful to history" in order to avoid past crimes and mistakes.

From his bully pulpit in Seoul this week, Annan pointed to the reconciliation in Europe - specifically the 60th anniversary of World War II last year, when the current leaders of principal combatants - Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, President George Bush, French President Jacques Chirac, and Mr. Koizumi stood together in Red Square in Moscow.

Yet more than a bully pulpit is needed to do the job today in east Asia, analysts say. "Annan is in a region that, for all the progress that has been made economically, is still anchored to the past psychologically," says Russell Leigh Moses, a professor of international relations at People's University in Beijing.

Islands dispute; owning up to history

In Seoul on Tuesday, President Roh pushed Secretary Annan to take sides on a dispute over tiny islands between Korea and Japan.


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