A summit meeting of Korea, China and Japan is scheduled to be held on Nov. 1 for the first time since May 2012. The hottest issue of the meeting is likely to be history, as in the summit talks between Korea and Japan scheduled for Nov. 2.
On Oct. 27, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged Japan to change its historical recognition and attitude before the opening of the three-way meeting. Minister Wang Yi mentioned the same thing during the meeting of the three countries’ foreign affairs ministers in March, as a prerequisite for trilateral cooperation.
The series of summit talks to take place soon can be a litmus test for Korea’s diplomatic capabilities amid the rising tension between Washington and Beijing surrounding the South China Sea, to say nothing of the Senkaku Islands. At the Korea-U.S. summit talks on Oct. 16, President Barack Obama asked Korea to raise its voice when China fails to follow international rules and standards. The same issue is likely to be put on the table during the meeting between President Park Geun-hye and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang on Oct. 31.
Korea is expected to be sticking to the principle, that is, compliance with international rules and problem solving based on peaceful dialogues, instead of taking sides. This can be a wise move in that Korea is not a directly-involved party in the dispute between Beijing and Washington, and the United States and China are also maintaining a neutral stance in the Dokdo issue between Korea and Japan.
In particular, President Park Geun-hye and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have their first official summit meeting since the inauguration of the present governments. Even though apology and compensation have been mentioned for a while, the two sides have never reached an agreement with regard to the comfort women issue. The upcoming meeting should be an opportunity for restarting the discussions based on a consensus on the urgency of the matter.
Korea can keep a diplomatic balance by renewing its relations with Japan. Korea’s economic development has been closely associated with Japan, while the bilateral relations between the two countries have deteriorated at a rapid pace during the past three and half years, to result in a significant reduction in economic and cultural exchanges and an increasing level of antagonism between the peoples of the two. Even if the trilateral summit talks handle the history issue, the main ones should be the economy and the North Korean nuclear threat.
In the meantime, the Korean government would be well advised to continue the three-party summit into a regular meeting as the chair of the gathering. At the same time, it should lead the establishment of a negotiation channel among Seoul, Washington and Beijing so that the nation could take initiatives for some diplomatic wiggle room.