Korea, Japan differ on timeline for bilateral talks

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Korea, Japan differ on timeline for bilateral talks

The Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday that it is still too early to consider setting a timeline for a summit between President Park Geun-hye and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, despite Japan’s deputy foreign minister claiming that talks could happen as early as September.

In an address Monday at a university in Tokyo, Shinsuke Sugiyama said that if a summit among Japan, China and South Korea were held in early fall, a bilateral meeting with Park and Abe could possibly take place on the sidelines, Japanese media reported.

The talks would likely occur in mid-September along the sidelines of the opening of the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

While “nothing has been decided upon,” Sugiyama was quoted as saying by the Asahi Shimbun, if a good atmosphere can be sustained, Korea-Japan relations “will have been considerably changed by early fall.”

However, it remains to be seen whether China will decide to participate in a trilateral summit. If three-way talks are realized, they would be the first held with the leaders of Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing since May 2012.

Abe and Park have not held talks since either took office in December 2012 and February 2013, respectively, though they did meet trilaterally in April 2014 along with U.S. President Barack Obama at The Hague along the sidelines of a nuclear conference.

Sugiyama’s remarks follow talks last week between the foreign ministers of Korea and Japan ahead of the 50th anniversary of the normalization of bilateral ties. Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se made his first visit to Tokyo since taking the position, holding talks with his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida.

It has been four years since a Korean foreign minister traveled to Japan, when a trilateral meeting with China took place in May 2011 under the Lee Myung-bak administration.

On June 22, President Park also attended a Japanese Embassy-hosted reception marking the 50th anniversary of bilateral ties in Seoul, and Abe likewise attended a similar event hosted by the Korean Embassy in Tokyo.

Such gestures indicate a possible thaw in ongoing diplomatic tensions between the two countries over history issues.

“The atmosphere [between Korea and Japan] has improved quite a bit through the foreign ministers’ summit,” Sugiyama said, adding that bilateral relations had already hit the bottom.

Japan’s coercion of thousands of young women and girls into sexual slavery during World War II has yet to be resolved, and it is an issue that must be naturally approached, particularly through a leaders’ summit.

“We are fundamentally open toward holding a Korea-Japan leaders’ summit,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Noh Kwang-il in a briefing on Tuesday in regard to Sugiyama’s remarks. “We adhere to the position that it is important that conditions are met to hold a successful leaders’ summit that can build lasting trust between both countries.”

“However, at this point, it’s premature to discuss in detail when a Korea-Japan leaders’ summit will be held,” he continued.

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

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