Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun Hye plan to hold what will be their first official meeting on the sidelines of a trilateral summit with China that Seoul proposes hosting from Oct. 31 to Nov. 1, diplomatic sources said Thursday.
If realized, it would be the first trilateral summit since May 2012. The summit would involve Abe, Park and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
Referring to an agreement struck Wednesday between Park and Chinese President Xi Jinping to hold the trilateral summit “at a convenient time including late October or early November,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Abe “would be happy to receive an offer” from South Korea for talks with Park on the fringe of such a gathering.
Abe and Park have yet to hold a formal meeting since they took office, Abe in 2012 and Park in 2013, due to disagreements over territory and views on wartime history.
In the planned bilateral talks, Abe and Park are expected to discuss the row over “comfort women” who were recruited to work in wartime brothels for the Japanese military, North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons development, and other issues.
Many of the women hailed from the Korean Peninsula that was under Japan’s colonial rule from 1910 to 1945.
South Korea has demanded Japan settle the issue in a way acceptable to those comfort women still alive, such as through an apology and compensation.
But Japan maintains that all compensation issues were settled under the 1965 bilateral treaty that normalized diplomatic ties.
An improvement in bilateral relations would depend on how Park promotes “two-track” diplomacy toward Japan that separates historical issues from other issues such as security and economic cooperation, according to observers.
Touching on the trilateral summit, Suga said the three leaders are likely to exchange views on regional issues such as North Korea, trilateral cooperation for disaster risk reduction and the environment.
Japan “will continue communications with China and South Korea and work out a specific timing and venue” for the event, the top government spokesman said at a news conference.
Given a planned visit by Abe to Central Asian states from mid— to late October, the trilateral summit could be arranged in early November or later, according to Japanese government sources.