The leaders of Japan and South Korea will meet in Europe next week in what the US hopes will be a step toward repairing relations between its two Asian allies.
US President Barack Obama will host the meeting in The Hague, Netherlands, where all three will be attending a Nuclear Security Summit on Monday and Tuesday.
It will be the first meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye since they both took office more than a year ago.
The three-way meeting is expected to discuss nuclear nonproliferation and North Korea’s nuclear program, Japan’s foreign ministry said in a brief statement.
They apparently will not discuss the contentious issue of “comfort women,” Japan’s wartime system in which historians say tens of thousands of Korean and other women were forced to provide sex in military brothels.
A South Korean foreign ministry statement added: “On a side note, the [South Korean] government is in consultation with the Japanese side on holding a director-general-level meeting on the issue of sexual slavery victims drafted for Japan’s Imperial Armed Forces.”
Friction over the comfort woman issue and Japan’s colonization of Korea in the first half of the 20th century has prevented Abe and Park from meeting earlier.
Most Japanese leaders have met their South Korean counterparts within the first year in office, so the failure of Abe and Park to do so has been a worry for the US.
“The meeting would add a momentum for the two countries to seek ways to smooth their ruffled feathers”, Cho Sei-young, a professor at Dongseo University said.
“However, it is too premature to say whether it would lead to a bilateral summit between Park and Abe down the road,” he said.
Jo Yang-Hyeon, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, said Seoul remained firm in its long-standing position that Japan should address the issue of wartime sex slavery and stop attempts to gloss over its wartime atrocities and justify its militaristic past.
“The tripartite meeting does not mean Seoul eased its stance. This will not automatically lead to a bilateral summit with Japan,” Jo said.