SEOUL – South Korean President Lee Myung Bak said Tuesday that Emperor Akihito must apologize for Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula if he wants to visit South Korea.
“I have said (the Emperor) may come here if he is willing to apologize from his heart to those who died fighting for independence,” Lee said in a meeting with teachers in North Chungcheong Province, according to the presidential office.
He made the remarks the day before South Korea’s Liberation Day, which marks independence from Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule.
Lee invited the Emperor to visit South Korea in April 2008 while he was on an official visit to Japan and met with the Emperor and his wife, Empress Michiko, at the Imperial Palace.
The Emperor “doesn’t need to come if he is coming just to offer his ‘deepest regret,’ ” Lee said, in apparent reference to the address the Emperor gave at a palace banquet he hosted for then- President Roh Tae Woo during a visit to Japan in May 1990.
“The victimizers have forgotten; but the victimized have not forgotten,” Lee said of the colonial era, which has left deep wounds in the Korean psyche.
In the 1990 banquet, the Emperor said, “I think of the sufferings your people underwent during this unfortunate period, which was brought about by my country, and cannot but feel the deepest regret.”
Lee, whose single five-year term ends early next year, triggered a diplomatic storm with Japan last week by making an unprecedented visit to the group of South Korean-controlled islets in the Sea of Japan long been claimed by Japan.
On Monday, Lee accused the Japanese government of ignoring South Korean grievances over the colonial period, telling South Korean legislative leaders that his visit Friday to the disputed isles, known as Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan, was intended to pressure Tokyo into action.
During his meeting with teachers Tuesday, Lee reiterated that he first thought about going to the isles “two, three years ago” and that the visit was not made “at the spur of the moment.”
Lee also suggested that Japan must allow him to address the Diet as a condition for him to make a visit to Japan as a “state guest.”
“I will go if they allow me to speak my mind” in the Diet, Lee said.
In a related development, South Korea demanded Tuesday that two Cabinet ministers drop plans to visit Yasukuni Shrine on Wednesday, the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II.
Transport minister Yuichiro Hata and Jin Matsubara, chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, have said they plan to visit the Tokyo shrine to pay homage to the war dead.
“Our government has kept a strong position that Japanese leaders in responsible positions, including Cabinet ministers, should not visit Yasukuni Shrine,” South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai Young said.
Yasukuni Shrine, dedicated to Japan’s war dead, has enshrined several war criminals. As a result, visits by government leaders trigger sharp protests in Asian countries.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, in keeping a policy since the Democratic Party of Japan came to power, has said he will not visit the shrine and has asked members of his Cabinet to stay away.