Seoul, Nov 2: The leaders of South Korea and Japan met today for their first formal one-on-one talks in 3 years, a day after they held a three-way summit with China's premier and agreed to strengthen ties that have frayed over history and territorial disputes.
Ties between Japan and its two Asian neighbours, key trading partners, have deteriorated after the hawkish Abe took office in late 2012. Seoul and Beijing see Abe as whitewashing Japan's atrocities during and leading up to World War II. Although no major agreement was announced after yesterday's meeting in Seoul, it can be still considered as a step forward after the gap in such meetings, which used to be an annual affair.
A joint statement said the three leaders agreed to try to resolve history-related issues by "facing history squarely and advancing toward the future" and boost exchanges and cooperation on economic, cultural and other sectors. Since taking office in early 2013, South Korean President Park Geun-hye had never had bilateral talks with Abe until today's meeting at her presidential Blue House in Seoul, though US President Barack Obama brought them together in a three-way meeting in The Hague, Netherlands, last November.
The last two-way summit between the leaders of Japan and South Korea happened in May 2012, when Park's predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, met with then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. Today, Park and Abe were scheduled to hold initial talks for about 30 minutes and then go into expanded talks involving their top aides and senior officials, according to Park's office.
On the agenda is the issue of Korean women forced to serve as sex slaves for Japan's Imperial Army troops. In the face of repeated protests by Beijing and Seoul, Abe was forced to abandon his earlier plans to revise Japan's 1995 apology over its wartime aggression and an earlier apology to so-called "comfort women." Japan has apologised many times before, but many South Koreans see the statements as insufficient.