After a freeze of more than three years, the leaders of South Korea and Japan resumed formal talks focusing on North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear bombs, and a long-running dispute over Japan’s wartime atrocities.
The closely watched meeting between South Korean president Park Geun-hye and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe came a day after they held a three-way summit with China’s premier and agreed to improve ties.
Relations between Japan and its two Asian neighbours have been shaky since Mr Abe, who takes a more hawkish, nationalistic stance than many of his predecessors, took office in late 2012.
Seoul and Beijing believe that Mr Abe seeks to obscure Japan’s wartime brutality against Asia.
No breakthrough was expected after today’s meeting, and nothing major came from Sunday’s three-way summit in Seoul.
But just sitting down together is a step forward after the gap in such meetings, which used to be an annual affair.
A joint statement said the three agreed on Sunday to try to resolve history-related issues by “facing history squarely and advancing toward the future” and boost exchanges and co-operate on economic, cultural and other sectors.
Today, Ms Park and Mr Abe held initial talks for about 30 minutes and then went into expanded talks involving their senior aides.
“I hope today’s meeting will have ... sincere talks to heal the painful history and serve as a precious opportunity to develop bilateral ties,” Ms Park said.
Mr Abe replied he wants to work with Ms Park to map out a new future between the countries.
On the agenda is the emotional issue of Korean women forced to serve as sex slaves for Japan’s Imperial Army troops.
In the face of repeated protests by Beijing and Seoul, Mr Abe was forced to abandon his earlier plans to revise Japan’s 1995 apology over its wartime aggression and an earlier apology to so-called “comfort women”.
Japan has apologised many times before, but many South Koreans see the statements as insufficient.
Despite their harsh history, South Korea, Japan and China are closely linked. China is the largest trading partner for both South Korea and Japan. South Korea is Japan’s third-largest trading partner and vice versa.
South Korea and Japan together host about 80,000 US troops, the core of America’s military presence in the Asia-Pacific.
Washington wants to solidify its alliance with the two countries to better deal with a rising China and a North Korean threat.
During Sunday’s summit, Ms Park, Mr Abe and Chinese premier Li Keqiang agreed to make further efforts to resume stalled negotiations on ending Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.