Obama to host landmark Japan, S.Korea summit

25th March 2014, Comments 0 comments

US President Barack Obama is to host Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-Hye for a much-anticipated first meeting between the Asian leaders on Tuesday.

Relations between Tokyo and Seoul are at their lowest ebb in years, mired in emotive issues linked to Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule and a territorial dispute, as well as Japan's use of South Korean "comfort women" sex slaves in wartime brothels.

The meeting on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague is the first since the two leaders took office more than a year ago and comes after Washington urged the Asian neighbours to mend strained ties.

"We intend to have a frank exchange of views about security in East Asia," Abe told journalists in The Hague ahead of the meeting.

"We consider this meeting the first step in the future cooperation between Japan and South Korea."

The three-way meeting at the US ambassador's residence in The Hague -- designed to discuss North Korean threats -- is considered a diplomatic breakthrough.

"Most discussions in the three-way summit will likely be on the North Korean nuclear issue," South Korean presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook told reporters in The Hague.

"The leaders are expected to assess the current situation and exchange in-depth views on how to achieve North Korea's denuclearisation," South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted him as saying.

Although not a one-on-one encounter, the talks are a significant step forward as Park had repeatedly ruled out a summit with Abe until Tokyo demonstrates sincere repentance for "past wrongdoings."

Recent surveys in South Korea have shown that the Japanese leader is even more unpopular with South Koreans than North Korean supremo Kim Jong-Un.

But prospects for a meeting between Park and Abe rose earlier this month after the Japanese leader promised to honour Tokyo's two previous apologies over its colonial past, issued in 1993 and 1995.

Japanese politicians express exasperation at the repeated requests for contrition, pointing to numerous apologies as well as a 1965 agreement that normalised relations and included a large payment to Seoul.

The situation was exacerbated by Abe's visit to a controversial war shrine in December that drew strong protests from South Korea and China, which also suffered during Japan's past colonial aggression.

"The Japanese government must offer clear signals and put measures in place to restore mutual trust," Park told German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Park said recent comments by the Japanese government that it would uphold the apology statement were "reassuring" but added: "The real question is: 'how serious are they?'"

The rift has been viewed with growing alarm in Washington. South Korea and Japan are the two major US military allies in Asia, and key to Washington's strategic "pivot" to the region.

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© 2014 AFP

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