Japenese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao (from left)
The atmosphere was reportedly tense at the South Korea-China-Japan summit held in Cebu, the Philippines on January 14, as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe rejected making the summit an annual event, sources said.
The leaders of the other two nations attendant, President Roh Moo-hyun and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, had made the suggestion, said a high-ranking official of the South Korean government.
According to the official, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, President Roh and Prime Minister Wen suggested the regularization of the summit as a channel for top officials to coordinate on important issues such as the North Korean nuclear problem, but Abe rejected the proposal at the final stage.
"Abe, who has maintained a position to link the six-party talks with the resolution of Pyongyang’s abduction of Japanese citizens, may have judged that to regularize the summit with South Korea and China would damage his nation’s interests, because [South Korea and China] have cooperated on the North Korean nuclear issue," added the official. He is referring to the fact that, at the six-nation talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear program, South Korea and China have taken a somewhat softer approach toward the North, whereas Japan has maintained a hard-line stance.
In the preparatory stage of the three-country summit, Tokyo officials demanded that proposed measures regarding North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals be included into the end-of-summit joint statement. South Korea and China were not as keen on the idea.
"South Korea was opposed to such an idea, saying that the six-nation talks are one thing and abduction of Japanese citizens is another," said an official of the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. "Due to this opinion gap, the three nations couldn’t reach a final agreement about the joint statement until shortly before the opening of the three-nation summit. During the summit, Roh and Abe also waged a war of nerves over the matter," the official added.
After mediation by Prime Minister Wen, South Korea and Japan finally agreed to tone down the rhetoric included in the joint statement, choosing to emphasize the importance of addressing humanitarian concerns related to North Korea rather than delve into specific issues, such as Japan’s kidnapping concerns.
In the meantime, President Roh, on January 14, skipped a dinner hosted by Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and attended by 16 East Asian leaders, apparently due to fatigue and discontent over Prime Minister Abe’s attitude, some sources said.
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