In a sign of deepening distrust in East Asia, South Korea’s president, Park Geun-hye, rejected the prospect of a summit with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. There is “no purpose” for a discussion with Tokyo, President Park indicated, unless Abe apologizes for Japan’s historical wrongdoings. In a wide-ranging interview with the BBC, Ms. Park was blunt:
The fact is there are certain issues that complicate [the relationship with Japan]. One example is the issue of the comfort women. These are women who have spent their blossoming years in hardship and suffering, and spent the rest of their life in ruins.And none of these cases have been resolved or addressed; the Japanese have not changed any of their positions with regard to this. If Japan continues to stick to the same historical perceptions and repeat its past comments, then what purpose would a summit serve? Perhaps it would be better not to have one.
Despite South Korean citizens polling in favor of a summit and intelligence sharing agreement with Japan, Ms. Park isn’t interested. The Japanese, she says, must take the first step in improving the relationship, which is at its lowest level in many years.China is a different story. If China’s ultimate strategy is to shift the center of gravity of its Korea policy from the prickly and starving North to the prosperous, anti-japan South, Beijing just might find itself to be pushing on an open door. “China is a very close neighbour” says Ms. Park, “and we are currently carrying out various programmes to give greater substance to that partnership.”The deterioration of the South Korea-Japan relationship, and the improvement of Seoul’s relations with Beijing, are two of the most interesting developments in East Asian geopolitics in recent years. President Park became the first South Korean leader to visit China before Japan. Eight months into her administration, she and Shinzo Abe remain cold and distant from one another. As Japan grows increasingly assertive in the region, rearming its defense forces and refusing to back down in territorial disagreements with both Seoul and Beijing, President Park is finding a welcome friend in China. And China, irked and annoyed by North Korean outbursts, happily and frequently finds itself on the same page as South Korea on areas of mutual interest.