Thu, Oct 29, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Seoul, Tokyo at odds days before summit in China

AP, SEOUL

Leave it to perpetually squabbling Northeast Asia to spice up that most vanilla of diplomatic activities: the meet-and-greet, photo-op-ridden international summit.

Only days before leaders from South Korea, Japan and China are to gather in Seoul this weekend, the event has still not yet been formally settled, with the South Korean and Japanese foreign ministries publicly dodging questions even as diplomats leak barbed tidbits to reporters behind the scenes.

The bickering confounds some observers, because even though these summits are often devoid of substance, there is high symbolic importance in leaders from these powerful neighbors putting aside their many differences and meeting. China and Japan are the world’s No. 2 and No. 3 biggest economies respectively. South Korea and Japan are strong US allies and Washington’s military and diplomatic bulwark in an unsteady region. All three have a keen interest in containing North Korea’s nuclear bomb ambitions.

The problem this week, as is often the case in Northeast Asia, appears to be history, and specifically the inability of Seoul and Tokyo to settle disputes stemming from Japan’s brutal colonial rule of Korea in the early 20th century.

This would be the first formal meeting at this level for Seoul and Tokyo in three-and-a-half years. It also represents another step in Beijing’s slow resumption of exchanges with Japan, following a fissure in relations in 2012 over Tokyo’s nationalization of uninhabited East China Sea islands controlled by Japan, but claimed by China.

Seoul has proposed a separate bilateral meeting between South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday, a day after they both meet with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強).

However, a Japanese government spokesman on Tuesday said he knew of no such proposal.

Newspapers in Japan reported that Tokyo has yet to respond because it balks at Seoul’s pressure for Japan to make some sort of concession on the issue of Korean women forced into sex slavery by Japan’s military leading up to and during World War II.

Many in South Korea feel that past Japanese apologies and attempts at recompense have fallen well short. This feeling has been compounded by a widespread view that the conservative Abe is whitewashing Japan’s wartime atrocities.

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