By: Kang Seung-woo

President Park Geun-hye may face tough calls regarding the territorial dispute in the South China Sea from Japan as well as China at bilateral or trilateral meetings with their leaders in Seoul, analysts said Thursday.

Park is scheduled to sit face-to-face with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang, Saturday, and hold her first summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Monday.

The leaders will visit Seoul this weekend to attend a trilateral leadership meeting slated for Sunday.

The South China Sea dispute, the ongoing hot-button security issue in the Asia-Pacific region, may trouble President Park during the events.

The maritime conflict between China and the United States is already placing Park in hot water because Washington wants Seoul to join its side against Beijing’s claim for territorial waters around new man-made islands.

However, the Park government has not taken sides in the dispute because Sino-Korea ties are better than ever.

“Prime Minister Abe may bring up the issue during the meeting with Park because Japan wants to highlight it on behalf of the U.S. government,” said Bong Young-shik, a senior research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

Behind the Obama administration’s rebalancing policy to contain China in the region, the United States seeks to enhance the trilateral alliance with Japan and Korea. Unlike Japan strongly backing the U.S. policy, Korea has managed to juggle its ties with the United States and China. In this regard, Abe is expected to urge Park to clarify her stance on the dispute.

In addition, there is speculation that the Chinese premier may raise the issue during the trilateral talks or a bilateral meeting with Park, which will plague the Korean government, as well.

However, Cheong Wa Dae said that there is little chance of the leaders doing so, stressing that the friction should be resolved in accordance with international norms.

Park and Abe are also expected to discuss “comfort women” — a long-running thorny issue between the two countries — during the meeting at the presidential office. But there is little optimism that the two sides will come up with a satisfactory solution in reference to the sexual enslavement of Korean women forced to provide sex for Japanese troops before and during World War II.

“The result of the meeting regarding the issue will fall short of our expectations,” said a Cheong Wa Dae official.

Park’s plan to normalize the relations between Korea and Japan is premised on the two sides making headway on the issue, so she will not shy away from the topic, according to Park’s office.

Korea and Japan allegedly remain apart over how to compensate the surviving victims of the sex slavery, with Seoul calling for government-led compensation, but Tokyo opposing that.

Park and Abe may also talk about the scope of the Japanese Self Defense Forces’ military operations in the event of a war on the Korean Peninsula.

Last week, their defense ministers held a meeting in Seoul, but they failed to reach an agreement on whether Japan would have to consult South Korea before launching any potential military action in North Korea.

In addition, during her trip to Washington, D.C., Park said, “The ROK-U.S. alliance is a linchpin of the U.S. rebalancing policy in the Asia-Pacific region” and the Chinese prime minister may take issue with her remark, given that the U.S. rebalancing policy targets his country.

SOURCE: THE KOREA TIMES