NATO's Asia-Pacific friends might have summit in Spain
Japan reportedly proposed a summit of the leaders of the four non-member countries in the Asia-Pacific region invited by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to attend the NATO Summit in Madrid on June 29 and 30. They are Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
When asked about such a summit, a presidential official told reporters in Seoul Monday, "I am aware that a proposal from the Japanese side has been received and is currently under review by our National Security Office (NSO)."
Yoon is expected to join in Spain the 30 NATO members, along with fellow Asia-Pacific leaders Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. This will be Yoon's first overseas trip since he took office on May 10.
Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun reported Monday that NATO's four so-called "Asia-Pacific partners" are expected to confirm their solidarity and set a goal of promoting a "free and open Indo-Pacific."
It added that a four-way summit would be an opportunity to express opposition to Chinese attempts to change the status quo in the East and South China Seas and also highlight closer cooperation of Asia-Pacific countries to the U.S.-led response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
However, the newspaper cited a high-ranking Japanese government official saying that "the environment was not created" to hold a Korea-Japan summit.
There was speculation that Yoon and Kishida could hold a bilateral summit, though that prospect now appears less likely. The two countries are struggling to resolve historical issues stemming from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule, namely the Japanese military's wartime sexual slavery and compensation for Korean forced laborers and a related trade spat.
In a press conference in Tokyo last Wednesday, Kishida told reporters that Korea-Japan relations are "in a very serious situation and cannot be neglected," adding that it is "urgent to resolve" pending issues such as that of Korean forced labor victims, reiterating Japan's position.
He said "nothing has been decided" on the possibility of a Korea-Japan summit in Madrid, adding that it is important to continue to communicate "in order to bring Korea-Japan relations back to a healthy" state.
Speaking to reporters last Wednesday on the prospects of a bilateral summit with Japan, Yoon said, "It is difficult to confirm diplomatic matters before they are decided," adding "nothing has been confirmed."
Yoon has stressed that he expects history issues between Seoul and Tokyo to be resolved smoothly, taking a future-oriented approach to the relationship. Washington has pressed allies Seoul and Tokyo to mend ties for the sake of stronger trilateral security cooperation.
There is always a possibility that the Korean and Japanese leaders could hold an informal meeting on the sidelines of the NATO gathering, as has been done in the past at other multilateral forums when formal bilateral summits were not arranged.
However, Japan is holding upper house elections next month, which could make Tokyo wary of any engagement with Seoul, which could play badly at home.
Despite expectations that Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin would visit Tokyo this month possibly to arrange a bilateral summit, Japanese media reported last week that such a trip was postponed until after the upper house election scheduled for July 10.
Last week, Park visited Washington and said Korea wants its intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia), to be "normalized as soon as possible," after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. In 2019, the Moon Jae-in government put off the expiration of the Gsomia "conditionally."
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]