Korean, Japanese Leaders Meet as Obama Brokers Talks

U.S. President Barack Obama held a meeting with South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in an effort to repair the strained relationship between the two East Asian countries and close U.S. allies.

Park and Abe greeted each other in The Hague with a courteous handshake while Obama looked on. The meeting came at the conclusion of the Nuclear Security Summit held in The Hague, Netherlands. Obama reportedly urged the two leaders to work with the U.S. as it plans to confront North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and regional “assertiveness” by China. Obama stressed that unity between Japan and Korea was critical to address the geopolitical issues of East Asia.

“Our trilateral cooperation sends a strong signal to Pyongyang that its provocations and threats will be met with a unified response,” Obama said. Both Park and Abe also agreed in their own statements that the three-way effort is needed to deal with North Korea’s aggression.

The meeting comes after North Korea launched dozens of missiles into the waters into the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan, although the ballistic missiles fired by the North are banned by the UN. The face-to-face meeting was a first for both Park and Abe since taking office in 2013 and 2012, respectively.

Park had previously rejected multiple opportunities to hold talks with Japan. Since taking office in February of last year, Park has taken a firm stance on the current Japanese regime’s reluctance to admit and apologize for the wartime atrocities during its occupation of Korea from 1910 to the end of World War II. She previously said she would not meet Abe unless the Japanese government apologizes for its past, including its alleged use of sex slaves known as “comfort women” as well as its claim on the islets, called Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan.

Although Abe hasn’t given an apology himself, he recently told parliament that he would not revise Japan’s 1993 apology for the imperial Japanese military’s abuse of South Korean women.

Obama has been concerned with a lack of communication between its two allies in East Asia amid North Korea’s ongoing military aggression and China’s expansion of military influence in the region. Tensions between the U.S. and China rose last November when China announced an air defense identification zone it its eastern sea which covered islands that are currently in territorial disputes with Japan and overlapped with air zones of both Korea and Japan.

Strained ties between South Korea and Japan could also result in economic consequences for the U.S. as the two countries had bilateral trade of about $100 billion last year. The U.S. also maintains more than 65,000 troops in South Korea and Japan.