Time to talkChinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had a meeting on the sidelines of a summit to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Bandung Conference in Jakarta, Indonesia yesterday. They had the meeting six months after an earlier meeting in Beijing last November. The latest meeting took place as President Park Geun-hye continues to refuse to have a summit with her Japanese counterpart as she has since her inauguration in 2013.
We don’t have to apologize for our avoidance of Abe. In the 30-minute informal summit between Xi and Abe in Jakarta, the two leaders made little, if any, progress on many thorny issues between their two countries. Moreover, we can hardly predict a rosy future for ties between those two countries given that a group of Abe cabinet members paid respects at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo - where 14 Class-A war criminals are enshrined - only a day after the meeting.
Korea must pay attention to something else: China’s pursuit of flexible diplomacy while cherishing its own principles in dealing with foreign countries. Beijing had boycotted summits with Tokyo for five years after then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi suddenly visited the shrine in Tokyo in 2001. However, China met its diplomatic needs by having informal summits with Koizumi in third-party countries on several occasions at multilateral summits. Despite Xi’s anti-Japanese sentiment being strong enough to call Japan a thief, he met Abe twice on international stages over the last six months. The Park Geun-hye administration needs to pay attention to the practical diplomacy being practiced by Beijing.
What worries us more than any rapprochement between Beijing and Tokyo is mounting anti-Korean sentiment in Japan. Samsung had to remove its logo from mobile phones it exports there. The Park Geun-hye government must find a practical solution for the current diplomatic stalemate with a double-track approach: a stern reaction to Japan’s regressive positions on history and territorial issues and a flexible approach on the economic and security fronts.
The government needs to take a more aggressive path, including a referral of the wartime sex slave issue to international arbitration while easing its position of linking the issue to a summit. If Park finds it difficult to meet Abe in Seoul or Tokyo, she can consider having an informal meeting at a multilateral platform in a third-party country to discuss the future of East Asia. It may be time to talk.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 24, Page 30