By Kim Tae-gyu
THE HAGUE ― President Park Geun-hye's trilateral summit with U.S. President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is unlikely to help improve chilly ties between Seoul and Tokyo.
They will get together on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in the capital city of the Netherlands. It will be the first summit between Park and Abe in longer than a year after they took office.
The three Asian leaders are expected to discuss mainly measures to deter North Korean nuclear ambitions.
"The U.S. arranged the three-way gathering by persuading President Park, who was reluctant to see Abe due to his nationalist acts and remarks on sore history issues," said journalist-turned-commentator Lee Kang-yun.
"I don't think that the three leaders would bring up serious and thorny agendas during the short meeting. Chances are that they would reaffirm the strong alliance for security of Northeast Asian regions."
For the meeting, Tokyo has taken a series of conciliatory steps. Abe pledged not to revise the 1993 Kono Statement and 1995 Murayama Statement in which Tokyo admitted to and apologized for its imperial-era atrocities, including the sexual enslavement of Korean women during World War II.
At the same time, it delayed the announcement of the result of its screening of new history textbooks which have contents claiming sovereignty on Korea's easternmost island Dokdo, from late this week to early next month.
In April, Tokyo also agreed to have a working-level meeting with Seoul to discuss the difficult topic of wartime sex slaveries, euphemistically called "comfort women," which prompted Park to meet Abe, according to Park's spokesman Min Kyung-wook.
However, the relationship between the two neighbors would not improve all at once after the one-off meeting because there still remain so many potential stumbling blocks, according to political watchers.
"The Japanese consumption tax will rise from 5 percent to 8 percent starting in April and experiences tell us that no previous administration in Tokyo remained unscathed after a consumption tax hike," said a professor at a Seoul university who asked not to be named.
"Abe might turn to his strategy of trying to quell people's complaints by inspiring nationalistic sentiments. A viable way would be to visit the Yasukuni Shrine during the April festival. Then, Abe's summit with Park this time might be the last one between the two."
Abe sent ritual offerings to the Tokyo shrine, which houses 14 Class-A war criminals, for festivals in April and October last year and paid a controversial visit in December to furor of neighbors.
In hindsight, observers point out, trilateral meetings among Washington, Seoul and Tokyo failed to create tangible results.
This is not the first time that the three countries held a summit together ― all of Park's three immediate predecessors had such meetings during their five-year term and the late former President Roh Moo-hyun met with Abe along with U.S. President George W. Bush in 2006 on the sidelines of an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Hanoi.
Park had a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping as soon as she arrived in the Dutch capital. This is the fourth summit with the Chinese leader after she took office early last year.