Rekindling the flameThe long-awaited summit between President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ended with no substance except reaffirming sharp differences in their positions. Despite the symbolic character of the meeting - the first official summit between the two leaders since the launch of their respective governments - diplomatic experts were skeptical they could narrow the deep gap on the thorny sex slave issue. The lack of a joint statement, press conference or even an official luncheon reflects the pessimistic atmosphere.
As expected, the leaders didn’t present practical solutions to the issue. Even nine rounds of meetings between each government’s senior officials were not enough to change their attitudes. As Park reiterated the need to solve the Gordian knot, Abe underscored the need to establish future-oriented cooperation so as not to pass on the problems to future generations. Abe adhered to his hard-line position on Japan’s wartime atrocities. The leaders were simply on a collision course.
The opposition’s description of the meeting as a “failed summit” may be reasonable. But we don’t have to go that far, as the first meeting broke the diplomatic deadlock. More than a few past Korea-Japan summits, including those between Roh Moo-hyun and Junichiro Koizumi in 2004 and between Lee Myung-bak and Yoshihiko Noda in 2012, went off track due to their unbridgeable gaps over history. Given such irreconcilable differences, the Park-Abe summit deserves credit.
After the summit, both relations are poised to move toward a thaw. If the two really intend to overcome their frozen ties, they need to meet often. Hopefully, they can take advantage of the APEC and G-20 summits by the end of this year.
East Asia presents daunting challenges. To sustain peace and prosperity in the region amid mounting nuclear threats from North Korea and intricately woven Sino-U.S. and Sino-Japanese relations, Uncle Sam must remain a strong pillar. For America to play its part in the power dynamics, the tripartite alliance among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo is crucial on top of close cooperation between Seoul and Tokyo. As discussed in the Nov. 1 trilateral summit among Korea, China and Japan, all of us can reap immense benefits when an economic community is established in Northeast Asia.
That’s not possible without restoring trust between Seoul and Tokyo and Beijing and Tokyo. President Park said, “After a storm comes a calm.” Just like her wish, we hope that Korea and Japan build a better relationship for the future.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 3, Page 34