Prime Minister Naoto Kan issued a statement Tuesday apologizing to South Korea for Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

“I express my deep remorse and heartfelt apology,” Kan said, using similar wording to a landmark statement issued first in August 1995 by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama and reiterated in August 2005 by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Kan’s statement, issued ahead of the Aug. 29 centennial of the annexation, clearly states that the peninsula was subjected to Japanese control against the people’s will, they were deprived of their sovereignty and culture, and their dignity was deeply damaged.

“We must be repentant where we need to be, and work jointly toward the next 100 years” to create a stronger bilateral relationship, Kan said during a news conference.

Referring to a telephone call with South Korean President Lee Myung Bak earlier in the day, Kan said Lee told him the statement was “sincere.”

On building stronger ties with Seoul, Kan reiterated that both nations share common values such as democracy and a free market, and can contribute to not only East Asia but the entire globe by joining hands.

“A drastic change has been taking place recently” between Japan and South Korea, Kan said, who repeated Tuesday that he has no intentions of paying a visit to the contentious Yasukuni Shrine this Sunday, the anniversary of the end of the war and Japan’s rule over Korea.

He lauded Lee for “maintaining a positive attitude toward strengthening bilateral ties.”

“I hope today’s statement will push forward such moves, and contribute to our advancement in the future,” Kan said.

Unlike the past statements that were in more general geographic terms, Kan’s remarks were directed specifically at South Korea, not the North.

The statement said Japan will turn over to South Korea certain confiscated cultural artifacts kept by the Imperial Household Agency, most notably a record of Korean royal ceremonies known as the Joseon Wangsil Uigwe.

Gist of apology

Kyodo News

Kan said:

• Japan’s colonial rule robbed South Koreans of their nation and culture, and deeply damaged their ethnic pride.

• Japan expresses deep remorse and heartfelt apology to South Korea for tremendous damage and suffering caused by the colonial rule.

• Japan will strive to forge future-oriented ties with South Korea.

• Japan will continue humanitarian cooperation in efforts to help recover the remains of Koreans and to help South Koreans living on Sakhalin.

• Japan will hand over Korean cultural artifacts.

• Japan and South Korea are partners working together and taking the lead for peace and prosperity in the region and the world.

Kan also touched on working through humanitarian efforts, including the recovery of the remains of Koreans in Japan.

“It is imperative that we build a forward-looking relationship,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said, adding that the Cabinet unanimously endorsed the statement.

But the message was quickly greeted by conservatives as naive, with some fearing it could tempt South Koreans to demand financial compensation. Such voices came not only from the opposition camp but also from conservative lawmakers within the ruling Democratic Party of Japan.

On concerns that the statement may encourage South Koreans to seek reparations, Kan said his administration stands with the 1965 bilateral agreement in which the two countries agreed to renounce such claims.

Sengoku said Kan’s statement was prepared with the 1965 deal in mind, in which Japan extended economic aid and South Korea renounced further redress demands.

On the statement’s failure to mention North Korea, Sengoku said Japan’s position was already expressed in a 2002 joint statement with Pyongyang released by Koizumi.

Park Il, a professor at Osaka City University and an expert on Japan-Korea relations, gave Kan’s statement high marks in light of deepening bilateral ties.

“Lee Myung Bak has been indicating his wish to form a future-oriented relationship with Japan,” Park said, adding that the statement’s release also came as North Korea has increasingly threatened regional security.

“I believe the Kan administration’s release of the statement will help deepen Japan-South Korea ties as well as strengthen cooperation between the two nations in the face of the threat posed by North Korea,” he said.

Park also positively evaluated the government’s returning of the records on Korean royal ceremonies. But noting that the statement didn’t touch on compensation, Park said South Koreans will be watching intently whether the apology triggers talks on that subject.

In marking the 50th anniversary of the end of war, Murayama in 1995 issued a historic statement in which he said he felt “deep remorse” and a “heartfelt apology” for parts of Asia that suffered under Japan’s wartime aggression and colonial rule. Koizumi followed with a similar message in 2005.

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