President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended the APEC Summit in Indonesia followed by the ASEAN+3 and East Asia summits in Brunei from Monday to Thursday. Park met with eight leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. State Secretary John Kerry, who attended instead of President Barack Obama. But she did not accept Japan's requests for a summit with Abe.
Park ran into Abe several times during these events and repeatedly sat next to him, at point holding his hand for a photo op with other leaders. But photos of the two leaders show how awkward they felt as they tried to avoid each other. Government officials said Abe would initiate a conversation whenever they passed each other but be given short shrift by Park.
Korea and Japan are geographically the closest neighbors, and these events demonstrate how much bilateral relations have deteriorated in the political and diplomatic arena.
Yet economic, social and cultural exchanges between Korea and Japan are growing all the time, and bilateral cooperation is essential in promoting security in Northeast Asia. But the diplomatic impasse shows no signs of resolution. It is important to remember that such an impasse gratifies those forces who are only interested in power and serving their own interests.
It is of course vital that members of the Abe administration stop all actions and comments that are likely to agitate their regional neighbors. Japanese rightwing fanatics are only hungry for power and short-term gratification. They are no concerned about Japan's long-term future. The Abe administration must first stand up to people who are damaging Japan's national interests and honestly tell the public what needs to be done for Japan's future, even if that hurts some patriotic sentiment.
But the Park administration for its part must realize that both official and unofficial diplomatic channels are needed to resolve disputes. One thing that is clear right now is that Seoul-Tokyo relations are in a crisis whose consequences will do neither side any good.