South Korea’s new President Park Geun-hye urged Japan on Friday to face up to history and be more responsible for its wartime wrongdoing, saying they are preconditions for the two neighbors to build genuine trust and cooperation.
Park issued the appeal in an address marking Korea’s 1919 nationwide uprising against Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule. The speech was watched closely as it came just days after her inauguration and could set the tone for relations between the two countries.
The March 1st Independence Movement anniversary also came as tensions flared anew after Japan renewed its claim over South Korea’s easternmost islets of Dokdo in a more assertive way than before by sending a senior official to attend an annual provincial ceremony for the first time last week.
On Thursday, Japan’s foreign minister also laid claims to Dokdo and Seoul lodged protests.
“It is incumbent on Japan to have a correct understanding of history and take on an attitude of responsibility in order to partner with us in playing a leading role in East Asia in the 21st century,” Park said in the nationally televised address.
“Only then will we be able to build rock-solid trust between our two nations, which will in turn enable reconciliation and collaboration in a genuine sense.”
The harsh colonial rule left deep scars on the hearts of Koreans as they were banned from using their own language at schools and forced to adopt Japanese names. Hundreds of thousands of Koreans were also mobilized as forced laborers and sex slaves, euphemistically called “comfort women.”
“Only when there is honest soul-searching about the past will our two nations be able to usher in a future of shared progress together,” Park said. “The hostic dynamic of one party being a perpetrator and the other party a victim will remain unchanged even after a thousand years have passed.”
Park used the address to also urge North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions, saying nuclear weapons will bring Pyongyang nothing but deeper isolation and greater suffering. North Korea’s nuclear abandonment is a prerequisite for reunification, she said.
“While provocations by the North will be met by stronger counter-responses, I will take a more flexible approach if North Korea wants to make the right choice and move on the right path,” she said. “I urge the North to hasten efforts to normalize inter-Korean relations and open an era of happiness on the Korean Peninsula together with us.” (Yonhap News)