Japan apologizes to S. Korea for colonization

TOKYO — Prime Minister Naoto Kan apologized Aug. 10 to South Korea for Japan’s past colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula in the hope of building future-oriented bilateral relations.

In a statement released ahead of the Aug. 29 centenary of Japan’s annexation of the peninsula, Kan expressed deep regret over the suffering inflicted during Japan’s control from 1910 to 1945. Kan said the Korean people of that time were “deprived of their country and culture, and their ethnic pride was deeply scarred by the colonial rule which was imposed against their will.”

“I would like to have courage to squarely confront the facts of history and humility to accept them, as well as to honestly reflect on our own errors,” said the statement, endorsed by his Cabinet members in the morning. “Those who render pain tend to forget it while those who suffered cannot forget it easily.”

With these recognitions in mind, he said that Japan will strive to construct “future-oriented” ties with South Korea by thinking about the next 100 years.

Kan telephoned South Korean President Lee Myung Bak following the Cabinet approval, explaining his reason for releasing the statement, which was timed also to precede South Korea’s celebration of its liberation from colonial rule on Aug. 15, according to government officials.

Kan told a news conference in the afternoon that Lee gave a positive assessment of the statement during the 20 minute-conversation, saying it showed “cordiality.”

The expressions of apology chosen were, however, basically in line with those of past prime ministerial statements — one by Tomiichi Murayama in August 1995 and another by Junichiro Koizumi in August 2005.

It said that Japan again expresses its feelings of “deep remorse” and “heartfelt apology” for “the tremendous damage and sufferings” brought about by its colonial rule.

Unlike the Murayama statement, which apologized to Asian victims of Japan’s aggression, the latest document was only directed at South Korea. It did not touch on North Korea.

Kan’s statement emphasized that Japan-South Korea relations are stronger than ever, thanks to the expansion of economic, cultural and interpersonal exchanges in recent years, and that Tokyo is determined to further deepen ties for the sake of peace and prosperity in East Asia.

Kan said that Japan will in the near future transfer precious cultural artifacts originating from the peninsula whose return South Korea has been demanding.

These include some royal records of the Joseon Dynasty, called the Joseon Wangsil Uigwe, being kept by the Japanese government. Kan also promised that Japan will continue its ongoing humanitarian cooperation with South Korea, including efforts to recover the remains of those from the peninsula who died during the occupation and support war-displaced Koreans left behind in Sakhalin.

With the statement, Kan is hoping to put historical issues behind the two countries and focus on ways to enhance future ties with Lee’s government in addressing bilateral and regional issues, including those related to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and its abduction of foreign nationals.

However, there was some opposition to releasing the statement from some lawmakers, even within Kan’s Democratic Party of Japan, saying it could prompt renewed compensation claims for the country’s colonial rule in Asian countries.

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