Prime Minister Naoto Kan may issue a government statement, endorsed by the Cabinet, apologizing to South Korea as this month marks the centennial of the annexation of the Korean Peninsula, official sources said Thursday.
Seoul has been closely watching whether Kan will release some form of statement on Japan’s interpretation of its colonial past and future relations between the two countries on or around Aug. 29, the day the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty was proclaimed 100 years ago.
The statement could also be released before Aug. 15, when South Korea celebrates liberation from Japan’s colonial rule, the sources said.
The government plans to include in the statement a phrase expressing remorse and an apology for the colonial rule, similar to a statement released in August 1995 by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, the sources said.
The statement to be released this time is expected to be directed only at South Korea, whereas Murayama’s and a similar statement in 2005 by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi apologized to Asian victims of Japan’s past aggression.
But even a slight change of wording in the statement could force Kan to wade into a political minefield because it could be interpreted in a new light.
“The statement will adhere to key words in the Murayama statement,” a senior official said, warning that “if it is changed, it would have new meaning.”
Some lawmakers in the Democratic Party of Japan are already saying they don’t want to see yet another apology statement to be endorsed by the Cabinet, the sources said.
On Wednesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku told a news conference, “We need to make efforts to remove impediments to future-oriented bilateral relations from a humanitarian standpoint.”
He also told a Diet committee that Japan needs to fully consider the feelings of people in South Korea as the two countries mark the centennial of the annexation.
“It’s easier for those who hurt other people in colonial rule to forget (what happened) than for those who were hurt,” he said at the news conference.
Sengoku also said that while the 1965 treaty that normalized relations between the two countries marked the beginning of a new chapter, “Various things remain at the level of citizens. There are people who still feel the suffering.”
Murayama said in the contentious 1995 statement: “Japan, following a mistaken national policy, advanced along the road to war, only to ensnare the Japanese people in a fateful crisis, and through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations.”
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