Time to accelerate negotiations
There’s been a lot of clamoring since President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met for talks Monday after a 42-month hiatus. First, it’s not clear what was really discussed nor how much of the conversation they agreed to make public. But certainly some topics unfavorable to Korea were leaked to the Japanese media. The presidential office has refuted them one after another - which is not a desirable development for either side.
There are also suspicions about the timing of the meeting. Nevertheless, both leaders agreed to accelerate negotiations to address the issue of wartime sexual slavery - Japan’s controversial mobilization of tens of thousands of “comfort women” from Korea during World War II - as soon as possible.
Because both leaders stopped short of presenting effective ways to resolve the issue, diplomatic experts have called it a “summit without substance.” In order to address their complaints, both governments must kick off negotiations in a full-fledged manner, as Park and Abe pledged.
But the reality is heading in the opposite direction. Needless to say, mutual trust is a lynchpin for negotiations to resolve a deep-rooted grudges originating from the comfort issue. If both sides are bent on repeating this vicious cycle of attacks and counterattacks, it may even lead to the collapse of what feeble trust there is between them.
Therefore, both governments must refrain from resorting to media play for purely political reasons in their own countries.
Instead, they must keep the negotiations going. Though talks over historical disputes have been relegated to working-level meetings, both sides must agree to raise the level of discussions. As it turns out, Korea and Japan held nine rounds of negotiations between the head of the Northeast Asia bureau of Korea’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the head of the Asia and Oceania Affairs Bureau at Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Though a 10th meeting is scheduled in the near future, they can hardly find a diplomatic breakthrough. That’s probably because director-level officials are not endowed with sufficient discretionary power.
Fortunately, though, both leaders have several occasions to meet each other again by the end of the year - starting with the Group of 20 summit on Nov. 15, followed by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting.
Park and Abe plan to participate in all of these events. Even if working-level officials have trouble reaching a compromise, both leaders could address them neatly on a bigger scale. While unexpected interpretations are still floating in the media sphere after the Nov. 2 summit, Park and Abe must not miss out on these vital opportunities to put strained relations back on track and move forward.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 6, Page 34