SEOUL, March 1 (Yonhap) – South Korean President Park Geun-hye urged Japan on Saturday to stop denying its wrongful past and face up to history as Tokyo questions its culpability for the sexual enslavement of Korean women for its troops during World War II.
The Japanese move was seen as an attempt to deny responsibility for the atrocity and recant the apology, known as the “Kono statement,” which has formed the basis of relations between Seoul and Tokyo along with a broader 1995 apology for the colonial occupation, known as the “Murayama statement.”
South Korea has strongly protested the move.
On Saturday, Park also said that relations between South Korea and Japan had moved forward up until now because Japan sought better ties with neighboring countries based on its Pacifist constitution while repenting for its imperialist past through the two statements of apology.
“A leader who fails to acknowledge mistakes cannot open a new future. True courage is not to deny the past, but to look squarely at history as it is, and teach growing generations the correct history,” Park said, apparently referring to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
“I believe the Japanese government should make the right and courageous decision so that the two countries will be able to overcome the painful history and move toward a future of new prosperity,” Park said in the speech marking the March 1 Independence Movement.
In particular, Park urged Tokyo to “heal the wounds” of sexual slavery victims, noting that there are now only 55 elderly victims left. She also accused Japan of refusing to listen to testimonies of the victims for its own political interests, and warned that Tokyo would find itself more isolated if it continued to deny the past.
“I hope the Japanese government will break away from denial of the past and write a new history of truth and reconciliation in accordance with the universal conscience of mankind and the precedent of post-war Germany, so that the two countries can move jointly toward a future of cooperation, peace and joint prosperity,” Park said.
Historians say up to 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, were coerced into sexual slavery at front-line Japanese military brothels during its colonial rule.
South Korea has urged Japan to resolve the grievances of the victims, saying that the issue is becoming increasingly urgent, as most victims are well over 80 years old and may die before they receive compensation or an apology from Japan.
Japan has snubbed Seoul’s demand for official talks on compensating the aging Korean women, claiming all issues regarding its colonial rule were settled in a 1965 package compensation deal under which the two countries normalized their relations.
Relations between South Korea and Japan have been at one of their worst points in recent years, due to Tokyo’s refusal to address the sexual slavery issue and its repeated claims to the South’s easternmost islets of Dokdo.
The government of Prime Minister Abe has also taken a series of steps that raised questions about whether or not Japan is remorseful about its imperialist past, including the attempt to reexamine the Kono statement of apology for sexual slavery.
In December, Abe also paid his respects at a war shrine that honors Japan’s war dead, including 14 Class A war criminals, in a visit denounced as an attempt to glorify its militaristic past. Abe was the first Japanese prime minister to visit the shrine in more than seven years.
Park has shunned a summit with Abe ever since she took office in February last year, saying she sees no point in meeting with him unless Japan first demonstrates seriousness about improving relations with Seoul through measures to resolve grievances over colonial-era atrocities, including the sexual slavery issue.
Park also used Saturday’s speech to propose to North Korea that the two sides hold reunions of families separated since the 1950-53 Korean War on a regular basis, saying time is running short for elderly family members waiting to see their long-lost relatives.
Last month, the two Koreas held a round of family reunions for the first time in more than three years in a sign of warming inter-Korean relations, following a year of high tension over Pyongyang’s third nuclear test and threats of war.
She also urged Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program and work together with the South for unification.
“A unified Korean Peninsula will be a heart of peace linking Eurasia to Northeast Asia. Northeast Asian countries will also be able to find new opportunities for development from a peaceful, unified Korean Peninsula,” Park said. “I hope North Korea will shut its nuclear program down and choose the path of joint development and peace.”
Meanwhile, a series of events were held in Seoul to mark the anniversary of the independence movement.
Anti-Japanese activists also rallied in front of the Japanese Embassy in central Seoul, with one of them unsuccessfully attempting to hurl a shredded “rising sun” flag of Imperial Japan and a beverage can into the embassy compound.