SEOUL – President Park Geun-hye said Monday she is open to a summit with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but it would have to held in a suitable environment to be “successful and meaningful.”
“There is no reason not to hold a summit, but the summit must be meaningful and should achieve progress and also the summit should not cause (relations) to move backward,” Park told journalists at a New Year’s press conference.
She said it is “regrettable that an environment has not been sufficiently created,” referring to the failure to resolve the issue of former South Korean “comfort women” who worked in wartime Japanese military brothels, in some cases against their will.
She urged Japan to amend how it views history.
“A reversal of attitudes by Japan is important” for creating an environment in which a summit can be held in a “meaningful way that moves (relations) even a step forward,” Park said.
She expressed hope that this year will become a starting point for new relations with Japan.
“This year is a year with a deep meaning for Japan and us as it marks the 50th anniversary of diplomatic normalization, and I hope both countries can make a new start toward a new future, based on a correct understanding of history,” she said.
Abe and Park have yet to hold a formal one-on-one summit since taking office, Abe at the end of 2012 and Park the following year, due to strained bilateral ties over the Takeshima/Dokdo territorial dispute and disagreements stemming from Japan’s wartime actions.
Japan ruled the Korean Peninsula from 1910-1945.
Talks have been held at the director general level to tackle concerns such as the comfort women issue but have failed to find common ground, leading the two governments to upgrade the talks to the vice ministerial level.
Park reiterated a call for Japan to resolve the comfort women issue, saying the victims are elderly and the problem may remain unresolved forever if not settled soon.
If that happens it would be “not only a heavy burden for South Korea-Japan relations, but for Japan as well,” she said. “It’s important for Japan to settle the issue while (the victims) are alive.”
South Korea has repeatedly demanded that Japan settle the issue in a way that is acceptable to the surviving victims, including with an apology and compensation.
Japan maintains that the issue of compensation was legally settled with South Korea under a 1965 bilateral agreement when the two nations normalized ties.
Park also said she is willing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, adding that Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program wouldn’t be an obstacle to holding the first Korean summit since 2007.
“There are no preconditions,” including nuclear disarmament, Park said, while also warning Kim to drop his nuclear pursuit in order to achieve an eventual unification.