SEOUL/BEIJING – South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Thursday urged Japanese politicians to show “brave leadership” in resolving issues still lingering from Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
“I urge Japanese politicians to show brave leadership in healing wounds of the past, and that’s how Japan could become a partner for a genuine cooperation,” Park said in a speech during a ceremony to mark the end of Japan’s occupation.
Park also called on the Japanese government to take “responsible and sincere measures for those who are living with sufferings and wounds arisen from the past history,” apparently referring to “comfort women,” who were forced into sexual servitude by the Japanese military during the war.
She said Japan is an important neighbor with which South Korea could work together to establish peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia, but “recent situations surrounding issues of the past history make the future of the two countries dark.”
“It would be difficult to build trust needed to move into the future without being courageous in looking squarely into the past and having the attitude of being considerate of others’ sufferings,” she said.
Relations between South Korea and Japan have been strained in recent years by the territorial dispute over a couple of rocky islets in the Sea of Japan, as well as differing views of history.
Earlier Thursday, three of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet ministers visited the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine on the 68th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II.
South Korea views Yasukuni, which is dedicated to 2.5 million mostly Japanese soldiers killed in past wars, as well as convicted Class-A war criminals, as a symbol of Japanese past militarism. Previous visits to the Shinto shrine by Japanese political leaders have strained relations.
Women who had been forced to work in wartime brothels of the Japanese army, and their supporters, rallied outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, demanding apologies and compensation.
Meanwhile in Beijing on Thursday, China summoned Japanese Ambassador Masato Kitera to condemn visits by Cabinet members to Yasukuni, China’s Foreign Ministry said.
Chinese officials told Kitera that China “strongly opposed and strictly condemned” the visits, ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement on its website.
Hong’s statement said the visits “seriously hurt” the feelings of people in China and other parts of Asia that suffered during the war.
The visits “fundamentally attempt to deny and gloss over Japan’s history of invasion,” the statement said. “Only by seeing history correctly and learning from it can Japan embrace the future. We urge Japan to follow its promise to seriously examine its history and win the trust of international society through actions. Otherwise relations between Japan and its neighboring countries will have no future.”
The embassy was guarded by more police officers and vehicles than usual.
Although Abe did not go to the shrine in person to avoid escalating tensions with China and South Korea, Xinhua said the visits by internal affairs minister Yoshitaka Shindo and state minister Keiji Furuya “will further harm mutual trust between Japan and its neighbors.”