Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye will conduct their first ever face-to-face discussion, with arbitration provided by President Obama.
In line with the Nuclear Security Summit, to be opened on March 24 in The Hague in the Netherlands, a Japan-U.S.-South Korea summit meeting will also be held on March 25 between Prime Minister Abe, President Obama and President Park.
Since its inauguration, the Abe administration has not once attempted to hold summit meetings with either China or South Korea, and diplomacy throughout East Asia has taken on a strange character. Prime Minister Abe needs to make this a foothold for the betterment of relations with both China and South Korea.
President Park — who has so far refused to speak with Prime Minister Abe, citing a lack of historical awareness as a reason — showed signs of softening when the prime minister spoke before the Diet’s Budget Committee regarding the 1993 Kono Statement that acknowledged the military’s involvement in, and the compulsory nature of, the issue of “comfort women,” declaring that they have “... no intention to review it.”
Regarding the 1995 statement of former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama that acknowledged past Japanese aggression and colonialism, Prime Minister Abe’s attitude is indicated in his announcement that “My administration upholds the statement as a whole.” In response, President Park said that she was “glad” and gave positive praise.
However, Prime Minister Abe’s decision to deny a re-evaluation of the Kono Statement was brought on by backlash received from South Korea and elsewhere when the administration expressed a plan to verify that there were no problems in the original drafting of the statement.
Things have been complicated for Japan-South Korea relations ever since Lee Myung-bak landed on Takeshima. Yet even though both countries have witnessed regime changes, their relationship continues to degrade over problems of historical awareness.
South Korea’s President Park has said that she will not respond to summit meetings so long as Japan’s attitude on the point of historical problems remains unchanged, and her firm stance toward Japan has not broken. On the other side, while Prime Minister Abe claims that “the door to dialogue is open,” he has provoked South Korea with dubious words and actions, such as his visit to the Yasukuni Shrine.
Presently, actual face-to-face dialogue is scheduled to occur — with mediation from the U.S. However, it can be expected that discussions will not be held again without American involvement. It is said that the topics of discussion will center on issues with North Korea and nuclear nonproliferation, with pending issues that lie between Japan and South Korea, such as the issue of “comfort women,” to remain untouched.
Japan and South Korea are neighboring countries that possess common values in democracy. The condition that both countries find themselves in — unable to communicate directly without third-party mediation — is something that needs to be improved as soon as possible.
According to the results of a public opinion poll announced by the Cabinet Office on March 22, regarding the troubling direction that Japan is headed in, 38.4 percent of people who raised the topic of “diplomacy” considered it to be the top problem. It would appear that Japan’s shaky relationship with the U.S. over Prime Minister Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine and friction with both China and South Korea over territorial disputes, are having an effect.
The really concerning thing is the expectation that, not only would discontinuation of dialogue between Japan and North Korea or the U.S. government throw the united front against North Korea into disarray, but it would also be to the advantage of China, as it strengthens its advance into the sea. A situation in which Japan, the U.S. and South Korea come to confrontation with China must be avoided. They need to create a path that will lead to the normalization of East Asian diplomacy.