SEOUL, South Korea -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan reached out to South Korea's incoming president, Park Geun-hye, on Friday by sending a special envoy to Seoul with calls for mending ties that had become strained under their predecessors.
But no immediate breakthrough was expected as the two main East Asian allies of the United States exchanged barbs couched in diplomatic language, a reflection of their long-running differences, rooted in Japan's often brutal colonial rule of Korea from 1910 until 1945.
The Japanese envoy, Fukushiro Nukaga, a lawmaker in the Liberal Democratic Party, met Ms. Park in her Seoul office on Friday, delivering a letter from Mr. Abe and the Japanese leader's invitation for Ms. Park to visit Tokyo. Mr. Nukaga relayed Mr. Abe's call for a close cooperative relationship with Ms. Park, hoping that "the launching of new governments in both countries will mark a good starting point in bilateral relations," said Cho Yoon-sun, a spokeswoman for Ms. Park.
Ms. Park shared a similar wish, calling for more exchanges between the two countries.
Analysts said the sending of the special envoy to Seoul may be a sign that Mr. Abe is trying to prevent the worsening of ties between Japan and its neighbors, which have grown increasingly strained over a series of territorial spats.
During its successful campaign for the Dec. 16 parliamentary election, Mr. Abe's party eagerly tapped nationalistic emotions stoked by the territorial disputes. And during her own campaign for South Korea's Dec. 19 presidential election, Ms. Park, like all her predecessors, vowed not to show weakness in the disputes with Japan.
Despite his conciliatory message, Mr. Nukaga's trip was overshadowed by simmering tensions. A group of South Korean activists rallied in the Seoul airport in opposition to his visit, and one stabbed himself in the belly with a knife to show his anger at what he called Japan's refusal to repent for its colonial-era brutalities. With blood streaming down his body, the 63-year-old man was taken to a hospital. The police said his injury was not serious.
When Mr. Nukaga's delegation met Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan of South Korea later Friday, it criticized a South Korean court's decision on Thursday not to extradite a man accused of an arson attack at Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine for Japan's war dead, the Foreign Ministry said.
The man, Liu Qiang, who is Chinese, served 10 months in a South Korean prison for a separate arson attack at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul in January last year. Calling Mr. Liu's December 2011 attack on the Yasukuni Shrine a "political crime," the Seoul court rejected South Korean prosecutors' effort to have him extradited to Tokyo. On Friday, he was allowed to fly home to China, where many nationalistic bloggers treated him like a hero.
Mr. Abe, a right-wing politician whose nationalist comments had often enraged South Koreans, returned as prime minister after his party's landslide election victory in December. Ms. Park, a conservative, is to be inaugurated next month.
Both come to office after their countries' relations deteriorated over a longstanding dispute over a set of islets. In August, South Korea's departing president, Lee Myung-bak, became the first Korean leader to land on the islets, controlled by South Korea and claimed by Japan.
Officials here said Mr. Lee's visit was driven partly by Japan's refusal to come to terms with its treatment of Korean and other Asian women, who historians say were forced or lured into working in military-run brothels for Japan's soldiers in World War II. Mr. Abe and some members of his cabinet had previously angered Koreans and Chinese by suggesting that there was no evidence that Japan's military forced those women into sexual servitude.
When she met the Japanese envoy on Friday, Ms. Park emphasized that "reconciliation and cooperation" should be accompanied by a "correct understanding of history."world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.