A timely proposal
South Korean President Park Geun-hye proposed a trilateral summit with the heads of China and Japan. During the ASEAN+3 (South Korea, China, and Japan) meeting in Myanmar, she expressed hope that the countries will hold foreign ministerial meeting in the near future and set a schedule for trilateral summit talks afterwards. Although she carefully used the word “hope,” she more or less was suggesting that it was time that the leaders sit down for serious talks.
Park and her Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping have met several times and held reciprocal state visits, but she did not have a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after Tokyo turned decisively right in foreign and security affairs and irked its neighboring countries with a series of revisionist comments and actions on historical issues. The president has made the right move of making an overture and offering a mediating role amid tense relationship among the three East Asian countries.
The three nations have held summits every year, taking turns in rotation since the first tripartite meeting in Fukuoka, Japan, in 2008. But the leaders of the three East Asian neighbors have not met since the last talks in May 2012. The current leaders have not sat down for talks since they took office in late 2012 and early 2013. Ties between Beijing and Tokyo are at their worst since Japan bought islands in the East China Sea that both countries claim sovereignty over in 2012. Seoul-Tokyo ties also have been strained after Japanese officials backtracked on an earlier stance admitting to coercion in the recruitment of comfort women into military brothels during World War II. Amid a two-year hiatus of tripartite summit talks, various issues and joint projects of the three nations, which count for one fifth of the global population and economy, have been on hold.
The leaders of China and Japan attempted to break the ice through separate talks on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation talks in Beijing. They agreed to work towards easing tensions including territorial disputes. Seoul, which has been resisting a summit meeting with Tokyo over the comfort women issue, could be excluded from the diplomatic front in East Asia if this goes on much longer. Park’s offer could serve as a breakthrough.
Seoul would be the next host for the tripartite summit, which gives it cause to propose the talks first. Although there is room for disagreements over the agenda and other factors in Japan as the result of a possible “snap” parliamentary election, foreign ministers should meet within the year and set a date for summit talks early next year.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 15, Page 30