S. Korea's Park to hold summit with Abe

SEOUL • South Korean President Park Geun Hye will hold a long-awaited summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe next week, with the sensitive issue of Korean "comfort women" on the agenda, officials said yesterday.

It will be their first one-on-one meeting after an extended diplomatic freeze, during which Ms Park turned down repeated requests to sit down with Mr Abe.

The official announcement of the summit came as Mr Abe and business leaders yesterday returned to Tokyo from a week-long tour of Central Asia after striking business deals worth more than US$26 billion (S$36 billion).

The conservative leader, who has been striving to kick-start the world's No. 3 economy, visited five countries with representatives of about 50 Japanese firms to strengthen business ties in the region where arch-rival China is investing heavily.

A spokesman for South Korea's presidential Blue House said the summit would take place in Seoul next Monday, on the sidelines of a trilateral leadership gathering with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

Ms Park and Mr Abe will "exchange ideas on issues of mutual concern, including the comfort women issue", the spokesman said.

Relations between the two neighbours have never been easy - clouded by sensitive historical disputes related to Japan's 1910 to 1945 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula and, in particular, the issue of Korean women forcibly recruited to work in Japanese wartime military brothels.

Ms Park's previous refusals to meet Mr Abe were predicated on her insistence that Tokyo had yet to properly atone for its past actions.

But she has come under increasing United States pressure to compromise, with Washington wanting its two key military allies in Asia to focus less on the past and more on containing an increasingly assertive China.

The last summit was in December 2011 between the then-South Korean and Japanese leaders Lee Myung Bak and Yoshihiko Noda.

The trilateral leadership meetings with China were initiated in 2008 and held annually until 2012 when they were suspended after Seoul-Tokyo relations went into one of their regular tailspins.

Premier Li Keqiang will represent China at the gathering in Seoul and will hold a separate one-on-one meeting with President Park.

Seoul had gone public on Monday with its offer of a summit, but Tokyo was slow to respond, amid reports of behind-the-scenes bickering over how Japan's wartime sex slavery might be addressed.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2015, with the headline 'S. Korea's Park to hold summit with Abe'. Print Edition | Subscribe