The leaders of South Korea, the U.S. and Japan sat down together on Tuesday on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit at The Hague. The meeting, which took place at the U.S. Embassy in the Netherlands, came at the urging of U.S. President Barack Obama.
The three leaders vowed to stand together against threats from North Korea. "Over the last five years, close cooperation between the three countries succeeded in changing the game with North Korea," Obama said. "Our trilateral cooperation has sent a strong signal to Pyongyang that its provocations and threats will be met with a unified response."
President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe duly echoed the sentiment.
While Seoul-Tokyo relations deteriorated due to Japan's attempts to deny responsibility for its World War II atrocities and other signs of resurgent chauvinism, North Korea conducted its third nuclear test in February last year and is now threatening to detonate another device. Yet Seoul, Washington and Tokyo were unable to sit face to face to coordinate their strategies to contain the North Korean threat. This makes it impossible to effectively pressure the North to scrap its nuclear weapons and return to the negotiating table.
North Korea on Wednesday fired two ballistic missiles into the East Sea, timing the launches with the three-way summit. Unlike the short-range missiles it had been firing over the past month, the ballistic missiles are a clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions. This shows just how sensitive Pyongyang is to any possible consolidation in security cooperation between Seoul, Washington and Tokyo.
But the aspect of the three-way summit that's drawing more attention is the fact that Park and Abe were able to sit face to face. The summit lasted a mere 40 minutes, and the U.S. apparently placed more significance on the fact that Park and Abe were willing to meet than any meaningful agreements.
Park and Abe apparently did not utter a word about the disputes that have divided them over the past year. Japan will soon announce revisions to school textbooks that drift even further to the right, while there is no telling how much more nonsense Japanese politicians will talk in their attempt to whitewash the crimes their country committed in World War II.
Next year marks the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between South Korea and Japan. Park and Abe need to address the issues of Japan's wartime atrocities, including sexual slavery of Korean women for Japanese troops. The time has come for Seoul and Tokyo to rectify the mistakes committed over the past 50 years and prepare for the next 50 years. The ball is now Japan's court.