Summit with S. Korea not confirmed: Japan

South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-Koo (right) talks with Japanese Defence Minister Gen Nakatani (left) during their meeting at the Defense Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, on Oct 20, 2015.
South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-Koo (right) talks with Japanese Defence Minister Gen Nakatani (left) during their meeting at the Defense Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, on Oct 20, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

Rift over wartime sex slavery said to be hurdle in the way of long-awaited leaders' meeting

TOKYO • Tokyo yesterday announced that a long-awaited summit with Seoul was not yet confirmed, as media reports said behind-the-scenes bickering over Japan's wartime sex slavery was a key sticking point.

On Monday, a spokesman for the South Korean presidential Blue House said Seoul had proposed a summit between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Park Geun Hye on the sidelines of a three-way leadership meeting with China in the South Korean capital next week. Tokyo did not immediately comment on Monday and Japan's top government spokesman was vague on the issue yesterday, less than a week before the proposed Nov 2 meeting.

"On the Japan-South Korea (summit), I think we are still in the process of coordinating," Mr Yoshihide Suga told a regular press briefing. "It's always the case, isn't it? (These things) are always decided right before the meeting."

The mooted talks would be the first one-on-one summit between Mr Abe and Ms Park, who has repeatedly refused to have such a meeting since taking office in early 2013, arguing that Tokyo has yet to properly atone for its wartime wrongs.

The last time South Korean and Japanese leaders held formal talks was almost four years ago. Ties between the neighbours have never been easy - clouded by sensitive historical disputes related to Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula and, in particular, the issue of Korean "comfort women" forcibly recruited to work in Japanese wartime military brothels.

The rift has frustrated Washington, which wants its two key Asian allies to work together on containing an increasingly assertive China.

Ms Park had initially signalled her willingness to meet Mr Abe during a recent visit to Washington, but stressed that in order for the summit to be "meaningful", there would have to be timely progress on the comfort women issue.

Japan maintains the matter was settled in a 1965 normalisation agreement, which saw Tokyo make a total payment of US$800 million in grants or loans to its former colony.

Japan's Yomiuri daily and the Mainichi newspaper said the two sides were still squabbling. Tokyo and Seoul "are seemingly still working to fill the gap over how to deal with the comfort women issue", the Yomiuri said, citing unnamed diplomatic sources. The Nikkei business daily and other Japanese media, however, said the hold-up was mainly due to scheduling conflicts.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2015, with the headline 'Summit with S. Korea not confirmed: Japan'. Print Edition | Subscribe