SEOUL — South Korean President Park Geun-hye sat down to her first summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday after an extended period of deep diplomatic rancour and mistrust.
The meeting capped a series of moves in recent weeks – prompted and pushed by their mutual military ally the United States – to normalise relations despite lingering historical and territorial disputes dating back to World War II.
While it was unlikely to mend the many broken fences between the two neighbours, it did mark an important step towards a more pragmatic partnership that is less encumbered by the emotional bitterness of the past.
Park met Abe as he arrived at the presidential Blue House and the two smiled as they shook hands before the talks began.
It was a contrast to previous meetings between the two at multilateral events which had been studies in unsmiling, stony indifference, especially on Park's part.
"Remember this is the first summit between the two countries in nearly four years, so expectations need to be kept in check," said Hong Hyun-ik, an analyst at the Sejong Institute think-tank in Seoul.
"What's important is creating a normal channel for dialogue to pave the way for more working-level discussions and coordination," Hong said.
Since taking office in February 2013, Park had repeatedly refused to meet one-on-one with Abe, arguing that Tokyo had yet to properly atone for its wartime past and 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.
Park has taken a particularly strong line on the issue of compensation for Korean "comfort women" forcibly recruited to work in Japanese wartime military brothels. – AFP