Japan plays up possibility of talks

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Japan plays up possibility of talks

As the Blue House struggles to quell public outrage over a recent agreement between Seoul and Tokyo to resolve the long-running dispute over Japan’s sexual enslavement of Korean women during World War II, a Japanese newspaper reported on Sunday that Tokyo is seeking to arrange a Korea-Japan summit in May.

The Asahi Shimbun reported on Sunday that the Japanese government is mulling a plan to invite President Park Geun-hye to Japan for a bilateral summit. Tokyo plans to host the Korea-China-Japan trilateral summit around the time of the Group of Seven summit, scheduled to take place on May 26 and 27 in Ise-Shima in Mie Prefecture, and host a bilateral summit between Park and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the multilateral talks, the newspaper reported.

The newspaper added that a bipartisan group of lawmakers was planning to visit Korea and meet with the surviving “comfort women” to seek their understanding for the latest deal between Seoul and Tokyo.

Multiple Japanese media outlets also reported over the weekend that preparations for trilateral talks with Washington are currently underway. High-level talks among the three countries would fuel U.S. President Barack Obama’s efforts to counter China’s rise and recommit to a “pivot to Asia.”

While Nikkei wrote on Sunday that Seoul, Tokyo and Washington were in negotiations to hold a trilateral summit in the United States this spring, Japanese broadcaster NHK reported that senior diplomats from the three nations will hold talks in Tokyo later this month.

Failing to identify its sources, NHK said that “Japan’s vice foreign minister, Akitaka Saiki, will meet with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken and South Korea’s first vice foreign minister, Lim Sung-nam” following last week’s breakthrough.

The Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs has yet to make any official statements on the reports.

As Washington gears up for the fourth Nuclear Security Summit, to be held from March 31 to April 1, multiple sources from the local diplomatic corps have asserted that a trilateral summit would likely take place if Korea and Japan were to mend ties on the comfort women issue and leaders from both countries joined the series of biennial talks this year.

An insider from Korea’s Foreign Affairs Ministry refused to confirm the speculation on Sunday, but said Seoul “currently isn’t involved in negotiations” for a trilateral summit near the nuclear meeting.

Among the meetings that have already been confirmed, the earliest between Seoul and Tokyo’s high-level diplomats would be the economic talks slated for later this month in Tokyo.

The annual consultative meeting was agreed to be held in early December. Lee Tae-ho, Korea’s deputy foreign minister for economic affairs, will lead a delegation and meet with his Japanese counterpart, Yasumasa Nagamine.

“Although the [latest agreement] isn’t directly related [to the upcoming talks],” a source from the Korean Foreign Affairs Ministry said, the two countries will likely “be engaged in active discussion” as they look forward to ushering in better conditions for economic cooperation.

The precise date has yet to be revealed.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, YOO JI-HYE [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]
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