In another reconciliatory gesture toward Japan, Monday, President Park Geun-hye renewed calls for a trilateral summit between Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing.
“In order to boost multilateral cooperation in Northeast Asia, it is important for Korea, China and Japan to join forces more than anything else,” Park said in a keynote speech at the World Policy Conference (WPC) in Seoul. The WPC is an annual international forum which seeks to foster global governance.
“The government will make efforts to ensure that a trilateral summit can take place based on a meeting of foreign ministers in the near future.”
Her remarks came weeks after she first made the diplomatic offer of a three-way meeting on Nov. 13 in Myanmar. Such a trilateral summit last took place in May 2012 in China.
“If Japan sincerely resolves the issue of comfort women, Korea is willing to hold a summit with Japan,” said Chin Chang-soo, a senior analyst on Korea-Japan relations at the Sejong Institute.
“Park seems to have made such remarks to make tangible progress in the frayed bilateral relations,” he added.
Seoul-Tokyo ties are probably at their lowest ever due to a long-running feud over historical issues including the latter’s sexual enslavement of Korean and other women during World War II. Since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in December 2012, the Japanese government has attempted to deny the existence of such war crimes.
Lee Won-deog, international relations professor at Kookmin University, said that the President is taking advantage of the proposal for fence-mending.
“Through the trilateral meeting, Park is attempting to improve relations with Japan,” Lee said. “While Japan is ready for the meeting, China also has no reason to reject the summit because Korea, the host country, is strongly pushing for it.”
“Although a Korea-Japan summit will not happen anytime soon, the trilateral meeting is a helpful tool to remedy fractured ties.”
Cheong Wa Dae is seeking to bring together the foreign ministers from the three countries this month, to lay the groundwork for the envisioned three-way summit at an early date.
“A productive foreign ministers’ meeting will pave the way for the summit — maybe early next year,” Lee said.
Prof. Kim Youl-soo at Sungshin Women’s University said whether or not the trilateral meeting will be held is up to China, which has urged Japan to show a sincere attitude toward the issues of history and territory.
“China will closely watch Japan’s moves in the future, but I think Japan is not likely to take provocative action that will put the summit at stake because the summit also counts for Japan itself,” Kim said.
Also Monday, Park said that North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is a destabilizing factor in Northeast Asia as well as on the Korean Peninsula.
“The North sticks to a policy of simultaneously pursuing nuclear and economic development, which is incompatible and contradictory,” she said.
As part of resolving the North Korea issue, Park advocated her “trustpolitik” — a policy based on transforming the Korean Peninsula from a zone of conflict into a zone of trust.
Since the beginning of this year, President Park has stressed the importance of Korean unification under her “unification bonanza” initiative. In July, she launched the Presidential Committee for Unification Preparation.
“The peaceful unification of the two Koreas will usher in a new era of peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia and eventually, it will be a bonanza for the international community,” Park said.