SEOUL: South Korea and Japan will hold a three-way summit with the United States next week, Seoul said on Friday, in a breakthrough after Washington urged the pair to mend badly strained ties.
The meeting in The Hague, on the sidelines of an international nuclear
conference, will mark the first formal talks between President Park Geun-Hye and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe since they took office more than a year ago, Yonhap news agency said.
“As to the summit involving South Korea, the United States and Japan which will take place in The Hague next week, the foreign ministry will make an announcement this afternoon,” Min Kyung-Wook, spokesman of the presidential Blue House told journalists.
Even though not a one-on-one encounter, the talks are a significant step forward after Park had repeatedly ruled out a summit with Abe until Tokyo demonstrates sincere repentance for “past wrongdoings.”
Relations between Seoul and Tokyo are at their lowest ebb for years, mired in emotive issues linked to Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule, its wartime use of women in military brothels, and an island territorial dispute.
Recent surveys have shown that the Japanese leader is more unpopular with South Koreans than North Korean supremo Kim Jong-Un.
But prospects for a meeting between Park and Abe rose earlier this month after the Japanese leader promised to honor Tokyo’s two previous apologies over its colonial past issued in 1993 and 1995.
Park has welcomed Abe’s pledge, saying she hopes it will pave the way for better bilateral ties.
South Korea has accused Japan of showing insufficient remorse for wartime abuses—particularly the use of sex slaves, known as “comfort women.”
Japanese politicians express exasperation at the repeated requests for contrition, pointing to numerous apologies and a 1965 agreement that normalized relations and included a large payment to Seoul.
The situation was exacerbated by Abe’s visit to a controversial war shrine in December that drew strong protests from Seoul and Beijing.
The rift has been viewed with growing alarm in Washington. South Korea and Japan are the two major US military allies in Asia and key to the US strategic “pivot” to the region.
US Secretary of State John Kerry called for the two Asian nations to mend their relationship during his visit to Seoul in February, urging them to “put history behind and move relations forward.”
Earlier this month, US assistant secretary of state for East Asia Danny Russel also said Seoul and Tokyo should find a way past the current diplomatic impasse, calling for “prudence and restraint” from both parties.