The government is trying to arrange a trilateral summit with South Korea and the United States for this month in a bid to thaw Tokyo’s frozen relations with Seoul, an official said Wednesday.
But Seoul appears cool to the idea of a meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, President Park Geun-hye and President Barack Obama on the sidelines of a global nuclear security summit in The Hague, Netherlands, on March 24 and 25.
Japan hopes that with mutual ally Obama in the room, Park would be willing to sit down face to face with Abe, something the Japanese leader has sought unsuccessfully since he took office 15 months ago.
Abe has visited the leaders of all 10 Southeast Asian nations and met five times with Russia’s president since taking office 15 months ago but has yet to meet one on one with the leaders of South Korea or China.
Japan’s ties with both neighbors have worsened over bilateral territorial disputes and a feeling in Seoul and Beijing that Tokyo has not atoned for its wartime aggression.
A Japanese official who was briefed on the trilateral summit strategy said it was unclear whether Seoul would respond to the push for a three-way meeting.
A South Korean official indicated no progress was likely unless Japan makes further efforts to resolve friction stemming from Japan’s wartime past.
“As long as there is no change to Japan’s view on the question of history, there is no consideration for any kind of summit with Japan,” the official said.
White House and State Department officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The summit idea was expected to come up in meetings Wednesday and Thursday in Seoul between Deputy Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki and South Korea’s first deputy foreign minister, Cho Tai-young. The agenda was to include bilateral relations and North Korea, the Foreign Ministry said in Tokyo.
In addition to Abe’s December visit to Yasukuni Shrine, which other parts of Asia feel glorifies Japan’s wartime aggression, a flash point with Seoul has been the issue of the wartime “comfort women,” a euphemism for females, mostly Korean, who were pressed into service as prostitutes for Japanese soldiers.
Abe has repeatedly stuck by a 1993 government apology for the treatment of the women and admission that Japanese authorities were involved in procuring them for military brothels.
But the Abe administration sparked outrage recently by announcing it would scrutinize the circumstances behind the 1993 apology — known as the Kono statement after Yohei Kono, the chief Cabinet secretary who issued it. Japanese nationalists despise the document, claiming there is no evidence Japan was involved in coercing the women.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that despite the review, the government will not rescind the statement.
“I’ve said repeatedly . . . that the Abe government will uphold the Kono statement. Japan would like to continue explaining that point to countries concerned,” he told reporters Tuesday.