Toward substantial summits
Korean President Park Geun-hye will hold bilateral talks with Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe next Monday for the first time since both leaders took their respective offices, following a trilateral summit among leaders of Korea, Japan and China. The tripartite summit comes at a time the three countries are mired in tensions. Since Seoul will be acting as host to the talks, it is responsible for the outcome.
The trilateral talks will likely be centered on the shared interest of economic cooperation, particularly in striking a free trade deal among the three. The three countries already began talks on a free trade pact in 2012. The three countries account for 70 percent of the Asian economy and 47 percent of the world’s foreign exchange reserves. It’s a pity that they cannot take most of the economic advantage of geographic proximity due to diplomatic differences. Additionally, Korea will be hosting the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018, Japan the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2020 and China the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022, so they could discuss ways to help one another prepare for the events.
However, cooperation cannot be achieved without mutual trust and harmony. Seoul and Tokyo must settle historical disputes, including the comfort women issue, while Beijing and Tokyo need to resolve territorial disputes. History is an issue the three parties must inevitably face up to in order to forge a common future. “The three countries cannot avoid or dismiss their history issues,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently said. Beijing, represented by Premier Li Keqiang, will likely address the issue during the upcoming trilateral talks. But Seoul must make sure history issues do not overshadow economic ones.
What’s more worrisome is the bilateral talks between Seoul and Tokyo, which showed differences in setting the agenda. The two are still wrangling over whether to address the sex slave issue. The parties do not appear to have high expectations from the first talks. Unlike usual summit talks, the two leaders won’t hold a press conference or issue a joint statement afterward.
But it is no use holding talks if there are no results. The three leaders should agree to hold trilateral meetings regularly so that no political agenda can interrupt their diplomatic ties.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 29, Page 34