SEOUL/TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asked South Korean President Park Geun-hye for a summit meeting in a letter handed over on Friday, seeking a breakthrough in the two countries’ frosty ties over Japan’s wartime past, including running military brothels.
Abe, in the letter handed to Park by former Japanese premier Yoshiro Mori who was visiting Seoul, mentioned the 50th anniversary of the neighbours’ diplomatic ties next year and said he hoped for efforts by the two sides to improve relations.
“Prime Minister Abe said in the letter … that he eagerly hoped to be able to meet on the occasion of an international conference to be held this fall,” Park’s office said in a statement.
The two leaders are expected to attend the summit meeting of Asian and European leaders in Italy in October and of leaders of the APEC grouping in November in Beijing.
Relations have chilled over the past two years, chiefly over the issue of Korean “comfort women” – those forced to work in Japanese military brothels during World War Two.
Park did not immediately respond to Abe’s invitation to a summit but said it was important for genuine efforts to be made to restore the honour of the victims of wartime sexual slavery, who are ageing and are “in the final 55 minutes” of their lives.
On Tuesday, Park called for a “courageous decision” by Tokyo to improve ties between the Asian neighbours, in an exclusive interview with Reuters.
The Japanese government welcomed the meeting between Mori and Park. “We hope that this visit will lead to an improvement in bilateral relations,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters on Friday.
Mori has political connections in South Korea after serving as the head of a group of Japanese members of parliament promoting friendship between the two countries, and he was warmly received by Park.