VIENTIANE – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye have agreed to coordinate responses to North Korea’s ballistic missile launches during bilateral talks in Laos.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit, Abe also asked Park to consider the issue of a statue honoring “comfort women” outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.
Their roughly 30-minute meeting came after North Korea fired three ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan shortly after midday Monday, the latest in a string of launches in recent months.
“North Korea’s provocative actions are in clear violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and must be directly challenged,” a Japanese government official quoted Abe as telling Park.
Abe and Park agreed to work together and with the United States in dealing with North Korea.
U.N. Security Council resolutions ban North Korea from launching ballistic missiles as well as testing nuclear weapons — something it did in January.
Park told Abe the planned U.S. deployment of an advanced missile defense system in South Korea is a necessary security measure to deal with the threat from its northern neighbor, the official said.
The plan for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system has been praised by Japan but criticized by China as a potential risk to regional stability.
According to the Japanese official, Abe mentioned the statue in his request for Park’s cooperation to implement the agreement reached between the nations in December.
Park replied that “steady implementation of the agreement is important,” according to the official, who interpreted her answer as an acknowledgement of Abe’s request to consider the statue issue.
Japan deposited ¥1 billion last week into a fund established by South Korea for the care of surviving Korean women who were forced into Japan’s wartime military brothels.
The money transfer was one of the key components of the agreement, which is dedicated to resolving the issue “finally and irreversibly.”
Elements within Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party have reportedly pushed for the removal of the Seoul statue as a condition of the funds.
The bronze statue, erected in 2011 by a citizens’ group helping the women, depicts a girl in traditional Korean clothing sitting next to an empty chair. A similar statue was unveiled in Los Angeles in 2013 following lobbying by local Korean-Americans, and another in Sydney last month.
The leaders also exchanged views on maritime territorial issues following an international tribunal’s ruling in July rejecting China’s claims to most of the South China Sea.
According to the official, Abe said the relevant parties should pursue the peaceful resolution of disputes based on international law.
In response, Park said she hoped the ruling will be used as part of diplomatic efforts to resolve the South China Sea issue, the official said.
Abe said he was looking forward to Park’s visit to Tokyo for a three-way summit with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, scheduled to be hosted by Japan before the end of the year.
The official did not specify a time that it might take place.
The leaders of the three countries agreed in Seoul last November to resume their rotation of annual trilateral talks, which were shelved in 2013 and 2014 while Japan-China ties were strained due to a territorial issue involving the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The islands are administered by Japan but claimed by China.
More broadly, the leaders affirmed their commitment to work on building a “future-oriented” relationship.
To that end, Park told Abe that Japan and South Korea should put more effort into mutual cooperation and youth exchanges connected with the 2018 Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Pyeongchang and the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.
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