Washington hopes the three-way summit will improve relations
between Seoul and Tokyo, which are clouded by the legacy of Japan's
1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean peninsula and Seoul's concerns
that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to rewrite Japan's wartime past
with a less apologetic tone.
The United States wants to strengthen the allies' combined response
to regional concerns such as North Korea's banned weapons programs
and China's growing assertiveness in disputed waters.
In what appeared to be a show of defiance, North Korea fired two
medium-range Rodong ballistic missiles into the sea at 2:35 a.m.
Japan and Korea time, both Tokyo and Seoul said. That was precisely
when Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye were sitting down
with Obama in The Hague for their first meeting since Abe took
office in December 2012.
North Korea's first firing in four years of midrange Rodong
missiles that can hit Japan followed a series of short-range rocket
launches over the past two months and could help improve cooperation
between Tokyo and Seoul.
In Seoul, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok
called the launches "a clear violation of U.N. Security Council
resolutions and a grave provocation against South Korea and the
Japan and the United States also protested the launches.
But Tokyo's plans to resume high-level talks next week with
Pyongyang on Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea decades ago,
as well as the North's missile and nuclear programs, would not be
canceled, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.
Those talks have been suspended since December 2012.
SIGNAL TO PYONGYANG
Park, Abe and Obama, who met on the sidelines of a nuclear security
summit in the Hague, emphasized the need to work together on
containing the North Korean nuclear threat.
"Over the last five years, close coordination between our three
countries succeeded in changing the game with North Korea: our
trilateral cooperation has sent a strong signal to Pyongyang that
its provocations and threats will be met with a unified response,"
said Obama, who will visit Japan and South Korea next month.
In an apparent attempt to break the ice with Park, Abe addressed the
South Korean leader in Korean at the start of the talks, saying he
was "very happy to be able to meet" her.
But the summit left aside thorny disputes over wartime history, such
as the issue of women, many Korean, forced to work in Japanese
military brothels before and during World War Two.
The festering problem of history has kept the U.S. allies from
deepening military cooperation despite rising regional tensions.
Obama said the three leaders discussed "specific steps to deepen
trilateral coordination", including "military cooperation that
includes joint exercises and on missile defense".
Japanese public broadcaster NHK later quoted a White House official
as telling reporters that talks among senior defense officials from
the three countries would take place soon.
[to top of second column]
HISTORY STILL RANKLES
Abe has visited all 10 Southeast Asian countries and met with their
leaders and also met five times with Russian President Vladimir
Putin, but had not met with Park since becoming premier. Nor has he
had a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping since the two took
Tokyo's ties with Beijing are strained by a territorial row over
tiny Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea as well as
bitter Chinese memories of Japan's past militarism and Japan's
suspicions towards China's military build-up.
The Japanese leader's December visit to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine,
seen by critics as a symbol of Japan's wartime militarism, upset not
only China and South Korea but also the United States, which
In a sign that history would continue to rankle, Park thanked Xi at
a meeting near The Hague on Sunday for building a memorial hall in
China honoring a Korean who assassinated a Japanese official more
than a century ago, Chinese media said.
Japan has protested the memorial to Ahn Jung-geun, who in 1909
killed Hirobumi Ito, a former top Japanese official in Korea, which
was then occupied by Japan. Ito was killed in the northeastern
Chinese city of Harbin, the site of the memorial.
Korea sees Ahn as a hero who fought for independence; Japan has
branded him a terrorist.
North Korea's launch on Wednesday of the Rodong missiles coincided
with annual South Korean-U.S. military drills and the fourth
anniversary of the sinking of the South Korean navy ship the
Cheonan. Seoul blames North Korea for that attack but Pyongyang on
Wednesday again denied any role, saying in a commentary the
accusation was "a farce".
A South Korean official said the missiles fell into the sea after
flying 650 km (400 miles), well short of their maximum range — thought to be some 1,300 km (800 miles).
(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park and Jack Kim in Seoul, Steve
Holland in The Hague and Nobuhiro Kubo, Stanley White and Kaori
Kaneko in Tokyo; writing by William Mallard and Linda Sieg; editing
by Dean Yates)
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