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UPDATE1: S. Korea presidential contender Park rejects Japan's territorial claims.

SEOUL, Nov. 8 Kyodo

(EDS: ADDING REMARKS ON JAPAN-S. KOREA FREE TRADE AGREEMENT IN 7TH-10TH GRAFS)

South Korean presidential contender Park Geun Hye of the ruling Saenuri Party on Thursday rejected Japan's claims to sovereignty over a pair of islets administered by South Korea in the Sea of Japan.

"It is not a matter for consultation between South Korea and Japan," Park told a news conference for foreign correspondents.

Park, who seeks to become South Korea's first female president, reiterated South Korea's position that the islets, known as Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan, are South Korea's territory historically, geographically and under international law.

"It is a sad memory for South Korean people, Japan's colonization of the Korean Peninsula (which) started with the occupation of Dokdo in 1905," she said.

President Lee Myung Bak's visit to the islets in August, the first visit by a South Korean leader, dealt a setback to relations with Japan.

Mindful of the importance of friendly ties with Japan, Park called it South Korea's "important ally" and that cooperative and friendly relations between the two countries are important.

In this regard, Park stressed the necessity of striking a free trade agreement between South Korea and Japan.

"Economic cooperation between South Korea and Japan has been developed to a considerable degree and the time has now come to further upgrade the economic cooperation with a South Korea-Japan free trade agreement being the momentum to elevate the two countries' cooperation a notch higher," Park said.

Outstanding issues have prevented the resumption of the negotiations, which have been suspended since 2004, such as Japan's removal of nontariff barriers.

Discussion of a bilateral FTA began in December 2003 but negotiations have been deadlocked since November 2004 mainly due to differences over potential tariff concessions on agricultural and fisheries trade.

The 60-year-old Park is the eldest child of former President Park Chung Hee, a general who rose to power through a military coup in 1961 and ruled the nation with iron fist until he was shot dead by his intelligence chief in 1979. He was credited with laying the foundation for one of Asia's great economic success stories.

As for relations with North Korea, Park expressed willingness to have a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, if elected as president.

"If it helps in moving forward South-North relations, I am willing to meet with the new North Korean leader," Park said.

She added, however, that such a summit "must involve an honest dialogue on issues of mutual concern."

Park also reiterated South Korea's position that North Korea's possession of nuclear weapons should never be accepted and warned Pyongyang against military provocations, saying, "I am prepared to activate all possible means within the boundaries of self-defense."

Also vying for the presidency in the Dec. 19 election are Moon Jae In from the main opposition Democratic Party and also Ahn Cheol Soo, a former university professor and software mogul who is popular among young voters.

Moon and Ahn agreed Tuesday to field a single candidate, boosting the chances for an opposition victory. Various survey results show any unified candidate would be neck-and-neck or ahead of Park.
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Publication:Asian Political News
Geographic Code:9SOUT
Date:Nov 12, 2012
Words:528
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