Park, Abe break impasse in bilateral ties: experts

November 2, 2015
South Korean President Park Geun-hye, right, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pose for photos before their meeting at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Nov. 2, 2015. (Lee Jung-hun/Yonhap)

South Korean President Park Geun-hye, right, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pose for photos before their meeting at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Nov. 2, 2015. (Lee Jung-hun/Yonhap)

SEOUL (Yonhap) — Experts on South Korea-Japan ties welcomed the results of Monday’s summit between President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, saying the meeting paved the way for better bilateral relations even without producing concrete outcomes.

Park and Abe held their first bilateral talks in Seoul on the sidelines of a trilateral summit with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. The format was intended to keep the first South Korea-Japan summit in three and a half years as low-key and practical as possible amid disputes over shared history.

A major stumbling block in the two countries’ relations has been the issue of Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery for Japanese troops during World War II. South Korea demands Japan offer a sincere apology and compensation to the victims before they all die, while Tokyo insists all issues related to its 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula were settled under the normalization treaty of 1965.

Recognizing the difficulties of resolving the issue through a single meeting, experts here instead highlighted the significance of the summit itself.

“The fact that they had the opportunity to hold candid talks carries great significance in itself,” said Lee Won-deog, head of the Japanese studies center at Seoul’s Kookmin University. “In a way, it removed the obstacle to future summits between the two countries.”

Lee expressed hope Park and Abe would hold further talks during various group summits scheduled for the end of the year to resolve the “comfort women” issue, and then exchange visits next year.

“It’s a decision that’s up to the two countries’ leaders,” he noted.

On the comfort women issue, Park and Abe agreed to speed up negotiations for a quick resolution, an apparent step back from Park’s earlier call to resolve the issue by the end of the year.

However, South Korea’s strategic interests are not limited to historical issues alone, Lee stressed.

Park Cheol-hee, head of the Japanese studies center at Seoul National University, also welcomed the summit as a “stepping stone” for further talks.

“It’s good that they left open the possibility of resolving” the comfort women issue, he said. “Other areas of cooperation should not be linked to it.”

Chin Chang-soo, head of the Sejong Institute, a private think tank near Seoul, called the summit an example of South Korea’s “flexible diplomacy.”

“Therefore, it can be rated highly, and for now, we should attach meaning to the fact that they met,” he said.

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