Abe pleads for summit with Park by end of 2013

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Abe pleads for summit with Park by end of 2013

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a group of visiting Korean lawmakers that he wants to have a summit with President Park Geun-hye before the end of the year.

A group of 16 Korean ruling and opposition lawmakers and other officials went to Tokyo yesterday and met with Abe at a Korea-Japan cooperation committee event.

Before departing for Tokyo, Saenuri Party Representative Suh Byung-soo told reporters at the airport, “We plan to meet political leaders in Japan to try to resolve the deadlock in the current strained Korea-Japan relations.”

Following the meeting, Suh stated that Abe said he “strongly wishes” for a bilateral summit before the year’s end. But it remains to be seen whether fruitful talks are possible after relations between the two countries hit a low because of a territorial dispute and Abe’s refusal to show contrition for Japan’s misdeeds against Koreans in the past.

President Park has made it a point not to schedule a summit with Abe or even meet him on the sidelines of multilateral events they both attended.

Japanese cabinet members and lawmakers continue to visit the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which enshrines Class-A war criminals from World War II, and Korea is unhappy with Japan amending its pacifist constitution and building up its military. Abe continues to ignore the issue of Asian women forced into sexual slavery during World War II, the so-called comfort women, and has threatened to overrule apologies by previous prime ministers for historical misdeeds by releasing his own official statement on the past.

Regarding the comfort women issue, Abe told the lawmakers yesterday that “the two countries should work together.”

This is the first time that Abe has publicly met with Korean representatives at an official event since his inauguration last December. Abe conveyed a similar message in talks with Korea’s top envoy to Tokyo on Wednesday.

Five months after he was posted in Tokyo, Korean Ambassador to Japan Lee Byung-kee held talks with Abe for the first time Wednesday. The two spoke for around 25 minutes, according to Japanese media reports, and Abe expressed his wish for a summit with Park.

Lee urged Abe to settle historical issues between the two countries. He told reporters after the meeting that he asked Abe to become a leader who makes progress toward the future. Abe was reported to have stressed the importance of the two country’s relations.

But the Korean government remained dubious about a summit. “Our government looks forward for a normalization in atmosphere,” said Cho Tai-young, spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, yesterday, “so that constructive dialogue between Korea and Japan can happen as soon as possible.”

When asked to clarify what Japan has to do in order to achieve such a normalization, Cho said, “Japan should know that very well already.” He referred to Korea’s stance that Japan should look at history squarely and take responsibility for its past.

President Park also rebuffed talk of a Seoul-Tokyo summit in an interview earlier this month with the BBC, calling such a meeting “pointless” unless Japan apologizes for its wartime wrongdoings.

Park held her second summit with President Xi Jinping in June, following a May summit in Washington with President Barack Obama. Traditionally, Korean presidents hold a summit with Tokyo before Beijing.

Last week, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seko Hiroshige blamed Korea for the fact there has been no summit in the last year, blaming Korea’s “internal situation” in a television interview.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]
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