May 20 (UPI) -- Japan's defense minister is calling for improved relations with South Korea, despite political friction and recent anti-Korean remarks from Japanese lawmakers.
Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said over the weekend he wished Tokyo could "return to the original relationship" it had with Seoul, during a meeting held in Oita Prefecture, NHK reported.
Iwaya made the remarks while addressing North Korea. Pyongyang recently tested multiple short-range missiles that could potentially target Japan.
The Japanese defense minister said he would like to meet with Jeong Kyeong-doo, the South Korean defense minister, in Singapore in early June during an Asian security conference. Iwaya also said he would like to go to China "if possible."
Japan and China have yet to resolve territorial disputes in the East China Sea. More recently, a Chinese court sentenced a Japanese man to five-and-a-half years in prison for "stealing state secrets," according to Kyodo News.
Iwaya said conflicts "should no longer escalate" and that he would do all he can in the area of defense diplomacy.
The defense minister has previously condemned South Korean responses to a dispute over South Korea fire-control radar. The South Koreans said a Japanese aircraft conducted a dangerous low-altitude flight; Iwaya at the time had said the self-defense forces had been patrolling appropriately.
The incident and other disputes have had a negative impact on bilateral relations.
Yaichi Tanigawa, 77, a Lower House member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, criticized South Korea on Saturday while commenting on delays over railway construction.
Delayed construction of a part of the Kyushu Shinkansen line is "like dealing with South or North Korea," Tanigawa had said, making no distinction between the two countries.
Tanigawa later apologized, according to reports.