Japanese Welcome Abe's First Meeting With South Korea's Park

  • Abe's support bounces back above 50% after Seoul summit
  • About 80% back U.S. moves in South China Sea, poll shows

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye in Seoul on Nov. 1.

Photographer: The Asahi Shimbun

Support for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe rose in a series of polls this week, after he achieved his long-held goal of a summit with South Korean President Park Geun Hye to try to mend strained relations.

About 51 percent of respondents to a poll published by the Yomiuri newspaper Tuesday said they supported Abe, up from 46 percent a month earlier -- his first rating of over 50 percent in the paper for six months. Three-quarters of respondents to the Yomiuri survey and a similar poll in the Asahi newspaper said they approved of his meeting with Park.

Support for Abe’s cabinet in other polls this week:

  • NHK: 47 percent, up 4 percentage points from last month
  • TBS: 54 percent, up 6.4 points
  • Asahi: 40 percent, slightly down from 41 percent

"People worried about Abe making the neighbors angry, and now suddenly he seems to be doing OK," said Steven Reed, a professor of political science at Chuo University in Tokyo. "Having a summit at least creates the image of improving ties."

Abe’s bounce back in the polls will bolster his ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s chances of gaining more seats in an upper house election next summer, keeping him on course to become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister in more than four decades.

First Summit

Park had declined to hold a bilateral summit with Abe since she took office in February 2013. She had demanded that he show more "sincerity" over Japan’s past colonization of the Korean peninsula, particularly toward women who were trafficked to Japanese military brothels during World War II.

Abe, an unpopular figure in South Korea, had said a meeting was needed precisely because of all the issues dividing the neighboring countries.

The two met for an hour and 45 minutes in Seoul on Nov. 2, on the sidelines of a trilateral summit with China. They agreed to speed up negotiations on resolving the issue of the so-called "comfort women."

"I have said all along that Japan, China and South Korea are neighboring countries with difficult problems," Abe said in parliament Tuesday when asked about his meetings with Park and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. "Precisely because we have those difficult problems, what’s needed is for the leaders to talk openly to one another."

The U.S. had sought to relieve tensions between its two main allies in the region, as it strives to balance out China’s growing assertiveness and coordinate a response to the nuclear threat from North Korea.

The Yomiuri poll showed 81 percent of respondents approved of the U.S. sailing a warship last month into waters claimed by China in the South China Sea, a move that prompted an angry response from the government in Beijing. In a separate poll by public broadcaster NHK published Tuesday, 61 percent said Japan’s strong verbal support for the U.S. naval operation was appropriate.

Abe’s support had faded over the summer amid massive protests against bills to expand the remit of the military and enable it to cooperate more closely with the U.S.