Park will meet Abe on Monday

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Park will meet Abe on Monday

President Park Geun-hye will have her first summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday, the Blue House announced Wednesday.

“President Park, on the sidelines of the Korea-Japan-China trilateral summit, will have a bilateral summit with Abe in the morning,” Kim Kyou-hyun, senior presidential secretary for foreign affairs and security, said. “She will exchange her opinions with Abe on a plan to improve bilateral relations and other issues of mutual interest.”

The summit will be the first formal bilateral meeting between Park and Abe since the two leaders took their respective offices. Diplomatic relations between Korea and Japan have been soured by unresolved historical and territorial issues.

The last bilateral summit between leaders of Korea and Japan took place in May 2012 between the predecessors of Park and Abe on the sidelines of another trilateral meeting in Beijing. Since then, the annual trilateral summit was also suspended, as both Korea and China were unhappy with Japan’s military policies and handling of historical issues.

According to the Blue House, Park, Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will hold their trilateral summit Sunday afternoon at the Blue House. “We expect trilateral cooperation to be normalized, and various cooperative projects among the three countries can be pushed forward more aggressively,” the Blue House said.

Although Park and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced after a summit in Beijing in September that the trilateral meeting would be resumed, the date and time were not made public, as Seoul and Tokyo were engaged in a diplomatic tug of war.

The diplomatic tension reached a peak this week when a senior presidential official said Monday that Seoul offered Tokyo a date for the long-awaited summit and was awaiting a response. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Tuesday that he had no knowledge of it, prompting angry responses from Seoul that Tokyo was ignoring the president’s offer.

Ever since she took office in February 2013, Park made clear that Japan’s sincerity in dealing with the issue of “comfort women” - the tens of thousands of Korean women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese during World War II - was the key to improving the two countries’ ties.

Seoul and Tokyo have held nine rounds of talks to address that issue, and the upcoming summit is expected to be an opportunity for both sides to confirm some progress.

“We expect the two leaders to have an in-depth discussion on pending issues, including the comfort women issue,” Kim said.

Expectations for the Park-Abe summit, however, are low, and they are being viewed as a diplomatic formality, not a meeting aimed at substantial outcomes of any sort.

“When the three leaders are meeting, it would look weird if no Korea-Japan summit took place,” a diplomatic source told the JoongAng Ilbo. “So that is why the summit was arranged. If Park didn’t meet Abe, Korea, as the host, would look petty, and Washington would see it as an extremely serious problem. It is too much to expect Park and Abe to agree on any actual resolution or even narrow down their differences on the issue.”

Abe will not receive a very warm welcome.

“The two leaders will spend enough time in the summit to discuss pending issues,” Kim said. “We have no plan to have a presidential luncheon for him.”

The Blue House also said there will be no press conference after Abe’s meeting with Park.

Chinese Premier Li, in contrast, will be welcomed with a presidential dinner and a bilateral summit with Park on Saturday, ahead of the trilateral summit.

On Saturday, the three leaders will also hold a press conference after their meeting and attend a business summit and a welcome dinner.

Korean government sources said the United States played a crucial role in promoting the Korea-Japan summit. Washington has been concerned about its two major allies in Asia’s rocky relations. Park and Abe did meet for talks in a trilateral meeting facilitated by U.S. President Barack Obama in March 2014 at The Hague on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit.

Park visited Washington earlier this month and was asked about the possibility of having a summit with Abe after a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Oct. 15. Park replied that she believed the meeting could take place on the sidelines of the trilateral summit and that she expected progress on the comfort women issue.

At her summit with Obama, Park described her willingness to sit down with Abe and said she wanted to have a “fruitful” summit with the Japanese leader, sources told the JoongAng Ilbo.

After Park returned to Korea, U.S. Ambassador to Korea Mark Lippert continued to deliver Seoul’s wish to Washington that the summit should resolve the comfort women issue, according to a diplomatic source. Washington repeatedly pressed Tokyo to do something about the comfort women issue ahead of the summit, diplomatic sources said.

Washington also told Seoul that it should guarantee to Tokyo that an agreement on the comfort women issue, if reached at the summit, should be a final resolution.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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