When will Pres. Park and Shinzo Abe finally meet?

Posted on : 2014-08-14 15:47 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
With no formal bilateral meeting during their terms, Seoul looking to China for a trilateral option

By Kim Oi-hyun, staff reporter

The chill between Seoul and Tokyo continues, with President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe marking twenty months since being elected in Dec. 2012 without holding a formal bilateral meeting.

Seoul continues to maintain that Tokyo needs to “change its attitude” if relations are to improve. But it is also reportedly weighing a possible political compromise, while working to take advantage of both countries‘ ties to China.

The South Korean and Japanese Foreign Ministers had their first bilateral meeting in eleventh months on Aug. 9 at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Naypyidaw, capital of Myanmar. But the significance of the encounter was minor.

“They just met here because it would have been too much of a headache to meet in South Korea or Japan,” explained an official who was in Naypidaw the same day.

So far, Park and Abe’s only formal meeting has been at a South Korea-US-Japan summit in March in The Hague. They have yet to sit down one on one, or to visit the other’s country.

The reason a short-term solution for the souring hasn’t been found is mainly because both countries are blaming the other. In Seoul’s case, the situation became worse with controversial remarks made by Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso while attending Park’s inauguration ceremony as a special envoy. According to sources, Aso cited the example of the different names used to describe the Civil War in the US and said that “different historical perceptions may exist within the same country,” which he said should be an understanding when South Korea and Japan discussed historical views. Critics accused him of equating the US Civil War with Japan’s acts of aggression against neighbors. The Park administration was open about its displeasure with the remarks, and has stuck to a rigid line on ties with Tokyo ever since.

In contrast, Tokyo claims Seoul is responsible for sending relations in the wrong direction. Specifically, it traces the slide back, not to the first year of Park’s term, but the last year of her predecessor Lee Myung-bak, who upset many in Japan in Aug. 2012, by visiting the islets of Dokdo and demanding an apology from the Japanese emperor.

Some observers are saying the two sides just need time to “cool off.” But a senior Ministry of Foreign Affairs official said the situation is already urgent.

“I appreciate the need to ‘cool off,’ but it’s not really realistic,” the official said on condition of anonymity. “There’s a whole string of events coming up between South Korea and Japan.”

Indeed, apart from the traditional historical references during South Korea’s March 1 Independence Day holiday and Liberation Day on Aug. 15, issues also crop up with the release of Japan’s Diplomatic Bluebook in April and Annual White Paper on defense in August, and the adoption and certification of history textbooks around the end of the year and beginning of the next tend to be a frequent source of controversy.

Now, Seoul is reportedly enlisting China to help it break through the tensions. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a government source said a decision was reached at the Aug. 9 foreign ministers’ summit to continue holding discussions between diplomatic authorities to carry and build on the momentum of the countries’ trilateral cooperation with China. Both Seoul and Beijing appeared to prefer the trilateral framework, which could lessen the burden of sitting down face to face with Tokyo.

Seoul is also reportedly mulling over a political solution to the comfort women issue, where it would respond favorably to a forward-thinking “resolution” on Abe’s part. But even that approach is expected to cause its share of problems, since the solution would also have to be accepted by the comfort women survivors themselves.


Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories

Most viewed articles