Japan is trying to arrange a trilateral summit with South Korea and the United States for this month, a government official said on Wednesday, in a bid to thaw Tokyo’s frozen relations with Seoul.
But Korea appears cool to the idea of a meeting of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, South Korean President Park Geun-hye and US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of a global nuclear-security summit in The Hague, Netherlands, on March 24-25.
Japan hopes that with mutual ally Obama in the room, Park would be willing to sit down face-to-face with Abe, something the Japanese leader has sought unsuccessfully since he took office 15 months ago.
Abe has visited the leaders of all 10 Southeast Asian nations and met five times with Russia’s president since taking office 15 months ago but has yet to meet one-on-one with the leaders of Korea or China.
Japan’s ties with both neighbours have worsened over bilateral territorial disputes and a feeling in Seoul and Beijing that Tokyo has not atoned for its wartime aggression.
A Japanese official, who was briefed on the trilateral summit strategy, said it was unclear whether Seoul would respond to the push for a three-way meeting.
A Korean government official indicated no progress was likely unless Japan makes further efforts to resolve frictions stemming from Japan’s world time past.
“As long as there is no change to Japan’s view on the question of history, there is no consideration for any kind of summit with Japan,” said the Korean official.
White House and US State Department officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The summit idea is expected to come up in meetings on Wednesday and Thursday in Seoul between Japan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki and Korea’s First Deputy Foreign Minister Cho Tai-young. The agenda for the meeting is bilateral relations and North Korea, says Japan’s foreign ministry.
In addition to Abe’s December visit to a shrine that Asian countries say glorifies Japan’s second world war aggression, a flashpoint with Seoul has been the issue of wartime “comfort women,” a euphemism for women, mostly Korean, who were pressed into service as prostitutes for Japanese soldiers.
Abe has repeatedly stuck by a 1993 government apology for the treatment of the women and admission that Japanese authorities were involved in procuring them for military brothels.
But Japan sparked outrage recently by announcing it would review the circumstances behind the 1993 apology - known as the Kono statement after Yohei Kono, the official who announced it. Japanese nationalists despise the document, claiming there is no evidence Japan was involved in coercing the women.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that despite the review, the government will not rescind the statement. “I’ve said repeatedly ... that the Abe government will uphold the Kono statement. Japan would like to continue explaining that point to countries concerned,” he told reporters on Tuesday.