Park talks with Abe at an APEC din­ner in Beijing

JoongAng Daily - - Front Page - BY SEO JI-EUN spring@joongang.co.kr

BEIJING — Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye spoke with Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe after he was seated next to her dur­ing a wel­come ban­quet Mon­day evening at the Asia Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion (APEC) meet­ing here.

Ac­cord­ing to the Blue House, the two lead­ers re­port­edly dis­cussed a range of is­sues, in­clud­ing the Im­pe­rial Ja­panese Army’s en­slave­ment of Korean women in mil­i­tary broth­els dur­ing World War II, a sub­ject that has been a key contributor to height­ened ten­sions be­tween the two na­tions. This is the first time Park and Abe were seen pub­licly speak­ing since March in a tri­lat­eral meet­ing among Park, Abe and U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama in The Hague on the side­lines of the Nu­clear Se­cu­rity Sum­mit. Park has re­fused to hold a sum­mit with Abe.

“Pres­i­dent Park sat next to Prime Min­is­ter Abe dur­ing the APEC gala at the Na­tional Aquat­ics Cen­ter on Nov. 10 and dis­cussed var­i­ous is­sues,” said Min Kyung-wook, a pres­i­den­tial spokesman. “The two lead­ers agreed to en­cour­age the smooth pro­ceed­ing of di­rec­tor-gen­eral talks [be­tween the two coun­tries].”

Work­ing-level talks kicked off in April to tackle Ja­pan’s wartime en­slave­ment of Korean women and the is­sue of com­pen­sa­tion for the sur­viv­ing vic­tims. The di­a­logues, which were orig­i­nally in­tended to be monthly, took place in May, July and Septem­ber. The fifth, which was slated for Oc­to­ber, was de­layed due to op­po­si­tion from some right-wing groups over spe­cific his­tor­i­cal de­tails. The next meet­ing has yet to be ar­ranged.

The con­ver­sa­tion be­tween Park and Abe on Mon­day was an ice-break­ing mo­ment, es­pe­cially given that the pres­i­dent has re­mained largely skep­ti­cal about agree­ing to Ja­pan’s per­sis­tent of­fers for bi­lat­eral talks.

Park’s stance that an of­fi­cial apol­ogy from Tokyo to its wartime vic­tims would only be a means to re­solv­ing strained bi­lat­eral re­la­tions faced an un­ex­pected chal­lenge after Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping on Mon­day held a face-to-face meet­ing with Abe, the first since both took of­fice. Xi urged Abe to follow a path of peace­ful de­vel­op­ment and adopt pru­dent mil­i­tary and se­cu­rity poli­cies, to which the Ja­panese prime min­is­ter re­sponded that his coun­try was de­ter­mined to con­tinue on a path of peace­ful de­vel- op­ment. That Park and Abe were seated next to each other was no ac­ci­dent; world lead­ers were seated in al­pha­bet­i­cal or­der by coun­try. Korea’s Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs was no­ti­fied in ad­vance about the seat­ing ar­range­ment for the wel­come re­cep­tion, and Pres­i­dent Park was in­formed about the sit­u­a­tion days ear­lier. A se­nior of­fi­cial with the min­istry said the pres­i­dent in­de­pen­dently opened a di­a­logue with her Ja­panese coun­ter­part, se­lect­ing which themes to dis­cuss and for how long. The move is a de­par­ture from Park’s past re­ac­tions to­ward the Ja­panese prime min­is­ter. When Abe greeted Park in Korean dur­ing tri­lat­eral talks at The Hague, she was un­re­spon­sive and main­tained a rigid de­meanor. It is an­tic­i­pated that the en­counter on Mon­day be­tween the two could work to thaw long-strained ties and serve as the ba­sis for the bi­lat­eral sum­mit that Ja­pan has long re­quested, de­spite mixed sig­nals over its wartime his­tory.

[Joint Press Corps]

Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye and Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe were seated side by side at a wel­come ban­quet Mon­day evening in Beijing. This photo was taken from a TV screen in a press room.

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