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[Editorial] A Korea-Japan summit?

A shared understanding of history is a prerequisite

Washington has reportedly started to put pressure on Seoul and Tokyo to mend fences. Evan Medeiros, a senior White House official, was quoted as saying that the Obama administration hopes “that high-level contact is resumed soon” between the two neighbors.

Medeiros is the senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council. He is a key player in the Obama administration’s Asia policy.

The official said in an interview with a Korean news outlet that Washington “would welcome high-level contacts to begin soon,” adding, however, that it would not act as a “mediator.”

The official’s remarks strongly suggest that some sort of contact is being promoted between Seoul and Tokyo under pressure from Washington, although the details have yet to be announced.

According to Japanese news reports, National Security Adviser Shotaro Yachi is expected to visit Seoul soon for talks with Kim Jang-soo, his Korean counterpart.

Washington wants Seoul and Tokyo to repair their ties, as trilateral cooperation among the U.S., Japan and South Korea would help the trio better deal with North Korea and other security threats in the Northeast Asia region.

U.S. officials probably want to see the two neighbors iron out their differences before President Obama visits Asia in April. Obama’s itinerary has not yet been announced but is likely to include Seoul and Tokyo.

Pressed by Washington, Tokyo has probably proposed talks with Seoul. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said last week that he would “make an aggressive effort to realize a summit” with President Park Geun-hye. He has sought a summit with Park ever since his inauguration in December 2012.

But Park has consistently rejected Abe’s offers, citing his flawed perception of history. She has repeatedly stressed that a summit with Abe would be meaningless unless the Japanese leader changed his revisionist views.

Park’s attitude was hardened by Abe’s visit to the Yaskuni Shrine, a potent symbol of Japan’s militaristic past, in December. Before leaving for Davos to attend the World Economic Forum in January, Park said she would not even shake hands with Abe, who would also be there.

The biggest obstacle to improved relations between Seoul and Tokyo is Japan’s refusal to come to terms with its history. And Abe has shown no sign of changing his distorted understanding of Japan’s role in World War II.

Under these circumstances, a summit between the two countries is unlikely. Even if a summit is held, it will only help with fixing relations temporarily. The two countries can start joint efforts toward a forward-looking relationship only when they come to a shared understanding of the past.