South Korea’s Park hosts Japan’s Abe for first bilateral

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South Korean President Park Geun Hye had her first bilateral meeting with Japan’s Premier Shinzo Abe on Monday, amid tensions over the countries’ wartime history.

The leaders of Japan and South Korea have not met one-on-one since a 2012 meeting bewteen Park’s and Abe’s predecessors.

The current leaders were “expected to exchange in-depth opinions on pending issues, including ‘comfort women’,” Kim Kyou Hyun, Park’s foreign affairs secretary, was quoted as saying last week by Yonhap News Agency.

Comfort women is the designation for the thousands of women, mostly Koreans, conscripted as sex workers for the Japanese army during Japan’s occupation of the Korean peninsula from 1910-1945.

South Korea has demanded an apology. Some surviving victims have called for compensation. Tokyo has considered the matter closed since a 1965 deal normalizing relations, Japan’s 1995 generalized apology for its wartime aggression, and after some earlier payments.

Park and Abe met in March 2014 together with US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the atomic summit in The Hague.

Japan and South Korea are both formal military allies of the United States, and host a combined 80,000 US troops, the bulk of its presence in the region.

Monday’s meeting comes a day after Park and Abe met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to discuss trade deals and coordinate their countries’ approach to North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme.

That meeting skirted many of the historically sensitive points between them, but did produce a joint statement with a commitment to “facing history squarely and advancing toward the future.”

More recent disputes include the China-Japan row over the control of a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. Beijing’s territorial claims in the area also overlap with territory administrated by other US allies, notably the Philippines.

Li was in South Korea for the first time since taking office in 2013.

In Monday’s bilateral, Park was expected to announce Seoul’s desire to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade initiative involving Japan and 11 other Pacific Rim economies, Kyodo news agency reported, quoting an unnamed source.

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