Top level meeting starts in Bandung

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Top level meeting starts in Bandung

The Asian-African Conference in Indonesia this week may become a platform for contacts between key players in the region to be made amid ongoing tensions in Northeast Asia, as regional leaders celebrate the conference’s 60th anniversary.

There is special interest in seeing if there will be high-level contact between North and South Korea at the so-called Bandung Conference, which will be attended by representatives of nearly 90 Asian and African countries.

Leaders of over 30 countries will attend a two-day leader’s summit that kicks off on Wednesday.

With no sign of a thaw in the ongoing diplomatic freeze in Northeast Asia, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is scheduled to speak at the forum and observers will pay attention to whether he will address historical issues or include an apology for Japan’s wartime aggressions.

The right-wing Abe administration’s revisionist position on the issue of the Japanese Imperial Army’s coercion of young Asian women into sexual slavery in military brothels has been a sore point in diplomatic relations between Seoul and Tokyo.

Abe’s speech in Jakarta scheduled for Wednesday may give an idea of what he might say in a speech to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II on Aug. 15.

The Indonesia speech and Abe’s speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on April 29 are considered to be practice runs for the Aug. 15 speech.

The conference will also be attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Last November, Xi and Abe held their first short, ice-breaking meeting on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing amid tensions over territorial and historical issues.

There is interest in whether Xi will make similar contact with Abe this time around in Indonesia, or with North Korea’s Kim.

Abe may also make contact with Kim, as Tokyo and Pyongyang have been cooperating over the decades-old issue of Japanese nationals abducted and taken to North Korea.

“So far, there doesn’t appear to be separate bilateral talks involving China, Japan, or North Korea,” said a South Korean Foreign Ministry official Monday. “But the situation can change depending on the conditions of the location, so it is difficult to predict.”

The Asian-African Conference launched in Bandung, East Java, in 1955, where a group of 29 countries gathered to discuss peace, security and economic development. The forum, formed on the initiative of Indonesia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan, holds significance as the first event at which former colonies in Asia and Africa voiced their stances.

The six-day conference held in Jakarta and Bandung that runs until Friday also includes a ministerial-level meeting and business summit.

A commemorative ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of the conference, which holds the theme of “Strengthening South-South Cooperation to Promote World Peace and Prosperity,” will be held in Bandung on Friday. Hwang will attend this event as well, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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