In his summit with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Japan’s new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama pledged to face up to his country’s wartime past and improve bilateral ties between the two Asian neighbors.
On the sidelines of a UN General Assembly meeting, Lee and Hatoyama sat down for talks on Wednesday, New York time, to discuss bilateral and regional issues, including North Korea’s nuclear arms programs.
It was their first summit since Hatoyama came into office a week ago, ending more than half a century of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party’s rule of Japan.
According to South Korean and Japanese officials, Lee and Hatoyama agreed to build “closer than ever relations between South Korea and Japan,” noting that the launch of the liberal Democratic Party-led administration in Japan is an opportunity to do so.
Hatoyama also told Lee that unlike his conservative predecessors, his government “has courage enough to look straight into the face of history,” said Lee Dong-kwan, the Blue House senior secretary for public affairs who accompanied President Lee at the summit.
“President Lee said the two countries must strive to build a new, trustful and close relationship,” the secretary said. “Lee said he is confident that Prime Minister Hatoyama will do so and he is also ready to do the same.”
The bitter memories of Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945 and that country’s subsequent dealings with its past have been sensitive issues in Korea.
Hatoyama vowed in August that he would not visit the contentious Yasukuni Shrine honoring Japanese war dead as a part of his plan to engage Asian neighbors, such as China and South Korea. He also proposed that a new state memorial be built to replace the shrine.
Past visits by Japanese leaders to the shrine, which honors the war dead including 14 convicted Class A war criminals, have angered Japan’s neighbors.
Just last week, President Lee urged Japan to take steps to close a painful chapter on the two countries’ past and take bilateral ties to the next level.
In his interview with Korean and Japanese news services, Lee reiterated a desire that the Japanese emperor visit Korea in order to end lingering animosity between the two countries over Japan’s past colonial rule of Korea.
No mention of the emperor’s visit was included in the Blue House press release on the summit.
According to Blue House officials, Lee and Hatoyama also agreed to cooperate on a South Korea-Japan free trade agreement and other global issues, including efforts to fight climate change.
By Ser Myo-ja [firstname.lastname@example.org]