SEOUL – South Korean President Park Geun Hye on Friday urged Japan to squarely face up to past historical issues, alluding to its brutal colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
“We can open up a future of common prosperity with Japan only when Japan honestly reflects on its past,” Park said in a speech marking the 94th anniversary of an independence movement against Japan’s 1910-1945 rule of the peninsula.
“The dynamic of (Japan) being the aggressor and (Korea) being the victim will never change, even after the passage of a thousand years,” Park, who was sworn into office Monday as the country’s first female president, told a ceremony in Cheonan, South Chungcheong Province.
Park stressed that “Japan should have a correct view of history and assume a responsible attitude to open up the era of Northeast Asia in the 21st century as a partner (of South Korea).”
Anti-Japanese sentiment in South Korea has risen after Seoul lodged a formal protest with Tokyo last week for sending a central government official for the first time to attend Takeshima Day in Shimane Prefecture. Earlier in the week, a group of small business owners in South Korea said it would begin a boycott of Japanese goods Friday to protest the dispatch of the government official.
The annual event is aimed at buttressing Japan’s claim that the Takeshima Islands, which are administered and known as Dokdo by the South, are inherent Japanese territory and part of Shimane Prefecture. The pair of barren islets lie roughly halfway between the two countries.
At the ceremony in Cheonan, Park, a member of South Korea’s ruling conservative party, also said political leaders of both countries should “have the courage and determination” to resolve issues related to their shared history, pointing out that “future generations of both countries should not be saddled with the heavy burden of (their) history.”
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told a news conference in Tokyo on Friday that the government is striving to build “future-oriented, multilayered relations” with Seoul, despite the “difficult problems” currently fueling bilateral tensions.
Kishida also expressed hope that the launch of new administrations in both Japan and South Korea will steer the two countries toward friendlier bilateral ties. The conservative Liberal Democratic Party-led government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in late December.
Kishida also said Tokyo can’t consider a separate protest lodged Thursday by Seoul over his reference to the Takeshima dispute in a policy address to the Diet the same day. In his speech, Kishida said that although the ownership dispute is “not one that can be resolved overnight,” Japan will continue “to clearly convey to South Korea that it will not accept what it cannot accept.”
His remarks immediately ruffled feathers in the South, which interpreted them as Japan laying what Seoul views as a baseless sovereignty claim to the Takeshima islets, which were effectively controlled by Japan until 1945.
Also Friday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that Tokyo has always regarded Seoul as an “extremely important partner” in maintaining peace and security in East Asia, where the threat from North Korea’s nuclear arms and ballistic missiles is rapidly increasing. Pyongyang successfully launched a satellite aboard a rocket in December, and carried out its third nuclear test last month.
Noting “there have been difficult issues between the two countries,” Suga said Japan wants to reinforce bilateral ties.