South Korean president-elect Park Geun-hye yesterday said that Japan needed to come to terms with its colonial history as tension between two Asian allies of the US simmered over Japan’s rule of Korea and an island dispute.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said he wants to issue a statement that would supersede a landmark 1995 apology for Japan’s past military aggression, a move that would likely raise hackles in South Korea, ruled by Japan from 1910-1945, and in China, where bitter wartime memories run deep.
“The two sides must have a correct view of history and pursue a future of reconciliation and cooperation, and for this it is important for Korea and Japan to try to build confidence,” Park told Abe’s aide, Fukushiro Nukaga, in Seoul, according to her spokeswoman, Cho Yoon-sun.
A “correct view of history” is shorthand for South Korea’s desire for Japan to acknowledge its wartime and colonial excesses, something Tokyo says it has already done, but which Seoul says falls short of what is required.
“The older generation must make the commitment to try to heal the wound and must not become an obstacle to opening the way for the future generation,” the spokeswoman cited Park, who takes office next month, as saying.
A handful of protesters assembled at Gimpo Airport outside Seoul ahead of Nukaga’s arrival and one stabbed himself in the stomach with a small knife and was taken to hospital.
Tensions over territorial claims and reparations and an apology for Korean sex slaves, known as comfort women, who were forced to work at Japanese military brothels, have spilled into the diplomatic arena, as well as economics.
South Korea canceled plans for an intelligence deal last year, while a US$57 billion currency swap to shore up Asia’s second and fourth-largest economies was allowed to lapse after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited a disputed island.
On Thursday, a Seoul court ruled that a Chinese citizen who carried out an arson attack on the Yasukuni Shrine for war dead in Tokyo could not be extradited to Japan as he had committed a “political crime” and might not get a fair trial.
The man, 38-year-old Liu Qiang (劉強), left for China yesterday, after serving 10 months in a South Korean jail for setting fire to the Japanese embassy in Seoul early last year.
Abe told reporters in western Japan that the ruling was “extremely regrettable.”
Park is the daughter of former South Korean president Park Chung-hee, who established diplomatic ties between the two countries in 1965 after more than a decade of tortured talks brokered by Washington. This won aid to help an industrial drive that propelled South Korea out of poverty.
Japan says it has settled all its obligations and has apologized for its colonial rule in a series of statements, although Abe’s government has raised doubts about whether it stands by a 1993 statement on comfort women, as well as the 1995 apology by then-Japanese prime minister Tomiichi Murayama.
Seoul says there has not been sufficient apology for the hundreds of thousands of South Koreans used as sexual slaves by the Japanese army and that reparations are not complete.