Officials from Korea and Japan discuss summit

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Officials from Korea and Japan discuss summit

The foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan on Wednesday focused on steps toward convening a trilateral leaders’ summit that includes China for the first time in three years, which could take place as early as the end of the month.

Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Yun Byung-se spoke with his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida, for 45 minutes along the sidelines of the ongoing UN General Assembly in New York, during which they addressed bilateral and regional issues.

However, they made no headway in arranging a meeting between President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Seoul will serve as the next host of the trilateral summit involving Park, Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, which is expected to take place at the end of October or early November.

Park and Xi agreed to those dates in September in their most recent bilateral summit in Beijing.

Particular interest is on whether Yun and Kishida will be able to arrange for a leaders’ summit between President Park and Prime Minister Abe, possibly to coincide with the trilateral summit in Seoul.

“Today, we focused on the preparatory issues related to convening the [Korea-China-Japan] leaders’ summit,” Yun told reporters in New York after the meeting on Wednesday, adding that they agreed that there was a need for the three nations to normalize a system of cooperation.

“Japan has expressed hope for bilateral talks and a meeting [with President Park], as it has publicly done many times previously,” Yun pointed out.

However, he continued, “We will review a bilateral leaders’ summit [between Abe and Park] in the next stage during follow-up director-general-level consultations.”

Seoul and Tokyo have been holding near-monthly consultations between Foreign Ministry working-level officials since April in an attempt to resolve the issue of the Japanese military’s forceful recruitment of girls and young women into sexual slavery during the early 20th century.

The matter has been a major obstacle in diplomatic progress between both countries.

The annual trilateral leaders’ summit involving Korea, China and Japan has been halted since May 2012 due to ongoing diplomatic tensions over historical and territorial issues.

Yun said that the two countries are “closely cooperating” in preparation for a successful trilateral leaders’ summit.

The two top envoys tackled bilateral and regional issues, including Japan’s record of wartime sexual slavery; the Unesco cultural heritage listing in July of Japan’s industrial facilities, some of which were linked to the conscription of Korean workers during World War II; and the controversial package of security and defense legislation passed last month by the Japanese Diet.

“We need to closely consult each other in regard to future policies through working-level consultations between defense officials from South Korea, the United States and Japan and other mechanisms,” Yun said in regard to the security bills, which enable Tokyo to exercise its right to collective self-defense for the first time since the end of World War II.

Kishida replied that Japan would proceed with exercising collective self-defense in a transparent manner via cooperation with Seoul and Washington.

Park and Abe have yet to hold an official bilateral summit since either took office but held a trilateral summit in The Hague facilitated by U.S. President Barack Obama.

They had unofficial conversations at the funeral of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in March and most recently on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Sunday.

“At this point, it is difficult for me to say whether there is a high or low possibility [of holding a bilateral leaders’ summit],” Korea’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Noh Kwang-il said on Thursday. “As the foreign minister said, we are working toward a successful trilateral summit. [Convening a Korea-Japan bilateral leaders’ summit] needs further discussion.”

Yun also held bilateral talks with his counterparts from countries including Albania, Iran, Mexico, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom during his visit to New York.

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

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