SEOUL - South Korea on Thursday signalled that it would not go ahead with a mooted leaders' summit with Japan, after talks between top diplomats failed to produce a breakthrough on their badly strained ties.
The countries' vice-foreign ministers met on Wednesday in a bid to thaw relations, which remain frosty over emotive issues linked to Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule, its wartime use of women in military brothels and an island territorial dispute.
"No dialogue for the sake of dialogue," foreign ministry spokesman Cho Tai Young said, when asked whether a summit between South Korean President Park Geun Hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should take place.
"For productive dialogue... it is important for Japan to take quick and sincere measures in the perception of history and pending issues," Mr Cho said, naming wartime sex slavery as the most important issue.
The meeting between South Korean Vice-Foreign Minister Cho Tae Yong and his Japanese counterpart Akitaka Saiki came with relations between Seoul and Tokyo at their lowest ebb for years.
Ms Park has already ruled out a summit with Mr Abe until Tokyo demonstrates sufficient repentance for "past wrongdoings", while recent surveys suggest the Japanese premier is more unpopular with South Koreans than North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The rift has been viewed with growing alarm by the United States, which counts South Korea and Japan as its two major military allies in Asia.
Historians say up to 200,000 so-called "comfort women", mostly from Korea but also from China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan, were forced to work in Japanese army brothels during World War II.
Japan acknowledged official complicity in 1993 on the basis of testimony from 16 Korean women, but the Abe government has repeatedly said the evidence needs to be re-examined.
The row was exacerbated in December when Mr Abe visited a controversial war shrine, drawing strong protests from Seoul and Beijing.
Japanese politicians express exasperation at the repeated requests for contrition, pointing to numerous apologies and a 1965 agreement that normalised relations and included a large payment to Seoul.