Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki visited Seoul Wednesday to meet with his Korean counterpart Cho Tae-yong. It was the first contact between senior officials from the two countries in eight months. Saiki originally planned to stay in Seoul for two days and have dinner with Korean officials Wednesday evening but abruptly curtailed his visit and headed back to Japan after talking to Cho for around three hours.
Saiki brought no message from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe about his administration's attempts to whitewash the country’s World War II atrocities. Instead he apparently kept calling for "unconditional" talks between the leaders of the two countries.
Japanese media reported Wednesday that the Abe administration was pushing for a trilateral summit between President Park Geun-hye, Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in the Hague on March 24-25. Seoul flatly denied those reports and expressed regret that Japan used the media to make it look as if the trilateral summit was going to take place.
Saiki told Cho that the Abe administration intends to "uphold the historical views" of previous Japanese governments. But the very same day Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga claimed at a press conference that there was "no coercion" in the mobilization of sex slaves for the Imperial Army in World War II, which flatly contradicts a statement by his predecessor Yohei Kono in 1993.
The Kono statement admits imperial Japan's wartime atrocities and acknowledges that the Imperial Army was involved, directly and indirectly, in the sexual enslavement of Asian women for troops, and that coercion was used.
Suga's comments clearly demonstrate that the Abe administration has no interest whatsoever in mending frayed relations with Korea. It needs to stop playing games.
The latest Seoul-Tokyo talks took place at the request of the Japanese government. But Japan probably proposed them only to show Washington that it did all it could in order to engage a reluctant Korea. Tokyo's calls for an "unconditional" summit demonstrate that it is not interested in negotiations but just wants to make itself look good in Washington's eyes.
The Abe administration received a barrage of criticism after Abe's visit to the militarist Yasukuni Shrine in December last year, but the U.S. has been calling on Korea and Japan to improve their relations. This has resulted in Japan resorting to this clumsy theater.
More than 1,300 Japanese academics have signed a petition urging the Abe administration to uphold the Kono statement. It needs to ask itself whether the international community will listen to rickety chauvinist rhetoric or to the voices of Japanese people who have a conscience that enables them to transcend knee-jerk nationalism.
As long as the Abe administration resists fundamental change, Seoul-Tokyo relations cannot return to normal.