SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This weekend, leaders from China, Japan and South Korea will sit down together for the first time in years. As NPR's Elise Hu reports, it's a big deal they're meeting at all.
ELISE HU, BYLINE: At a park in downtown Seoul, children sing as artists unveil small works of big symbolic meaning.
HU: They are bronze statues of young girls, one Korean, the other Chinese. Hands clenched in their laps, they represent the tens of thousands of Korean and Chinese women forced into sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers during World War II.
LEO SHI YOUNG: So just let the world know that there's more Asian women suffered during the war.
HU: Chinese artist Leo Shi Young teamed up with Korean sculptors to create the piece.
YOUNG: More importantly to protest that this history has been repeatedly denied - denied by the history revisionists.
HU: This sentiment is common in Korea, where people continue pressing for fuller apologies from Japan. Japan says the issue of sex slaves was settled in a treaty decades ago. When the three Asian powers meet on Sunday, historical issues like this one won't be far from leaders' minds. Korea and Japan have the rockiest relationship within the group.
JOHN DELURY: There's all kinds of domestic politics, and public opinion has hardened as these two leaders have failed to find some kind of bridge, you know, of remorse.
HU: John Delury is a historian and professor at Seoul's Yonsei University.
DELURY: Now we're seeing the first fledgling effort to kind of crawl out of the pit that they've dug for themselves.
HU: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Korean President Park Geun-hye have not met one-on-one since either of them took power. They're expected to finally do so on the sidelines of the summit. It's something the U.S. certainly wants to see.
DELURY: These are the U.S.'s two so-called linchpin allies in this neighborhood. You know, you've got obviously one of the biggest economies in the world in Japan. You've got a serious economy here in South Korea, and you have two major military players in a region that's going through some security turmoil because of the rise of China.
HU: Analysts say this weekend's meeting is a good start but only a start.
KATHARINE MOON: We can't just have this summit and end with it.
HU: Katharine Moon is the Korean Foundation chair at the Brookings Institution. She says the nations need to keep meeting because the three countries share so many common concerns. Their economies are increasingly interdependent, energy needs are high, and air pollution is a regional problem that knows no borders. But the expectations for any real outcomes this weekend are quite low.
MOON: I don't think we will be able to see any substantive developments. But I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.
HU: She says the Asian leaders may be able to call the summit a victory just by going through with it. Elise Hu, NPR News, Seoul.
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