Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye will not meet on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, in September, government sources said.
Tokyo has found Park reluctant to meet due to resurfacing issues stemming from Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula before and during World War II, as well as a territorial dispute over islets controlled by Seoul but claimed by Tokyo in the Sea of Japan, the sources said Friday.
In addition, Abe’s government does not plan to request a bilateral summit with South Korea at the U.N. General Assembly session to be held in late September in New York, the sources said.
The strained ties between Tokyo and Seoul saw a glimmer of hope when Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida met with his South Korean counterpart, Yun Byung-se, in Brunei on July 1, marking the first talks between such senior officials in nine months. But bilateral ties are expected to remain chilly for the time being.
Abe, who took office last December, and Park, who assumed the presidency in February, have yet to meet face to face as national leaders. Both are expected to attend the two-day G-20 summit of leaders of major economies in Russia starting Sept. 5.
Tokyo also plans to hold off on efforts to resume “shuttle diplomacy” with Seoul, in which the leaders pay reciprocal visits each year. The visits have been suspended since December 2011, when Park’s predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, visited Tokyo and met with then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
Abe said last month that he wanted to meet the new South Korean president, but Park demurred Wednesday, noting that bilateral ties could sour further if critical issues remain unaddressed.
“The momentum for talks has been lost at the top level,” one of the sources said.
In Tokyo Friday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference there are no urgent matters that need to be discussed by Abe and Park at the moment. “We will keep communicating at a working level,” he said.
One reason for Tokyo’s change of attitude, one source said, is that if Japan comes off as too eager for a summit, it will give South Korea the upper hand.
In addition, no trilateral meeting of Japan, China and South Korea has been held so far this year. The summits became an annual affair in 2008.
Tokyo’s ties with Beijing have been in an even worse state since Japan effectively nationalized the disputed, China-claimed Senkaku Islands last fall.
Some officials in Tokyo fear that neither a trilateral summit nor a bilateral meeting with South Korea will be held this year.