Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada offered a rare apology to South Korea yesterday for Japan’s colonial rule over Korea from 1910 to 1945.
“I fully understand the agonies of people who lost their countries and had their national pride harmed,” said Okada at a press conference after having talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan.
Okada came to South Korea last night for a two-day visit after being sworn in last September as the first foreign minister for the Japanese administration under the Democratic Party.
It was the first official remark on the issue by an official of the Democratic Party.
The Democrats won a landslide victory in the general election late last August, pushing the Liberal Democratic Party out of power after its half-century of nearly unbroken rule.
“We should remember the agonies of people being ruled and never forget the feelings of victims,” Okada said. “In line with that, we should move forward with strengthened future-oriented and truly friendly relations by looking ahead into the next 100 years.”
He said that the Japanese administration under Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama stands behind a statement made by former Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama on Aug. 15, 1995, the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II.
The statement mentioned Murayama’s “heartfelt apology” for causing the war in the Pacific as well as colonial rule by Japan before the war.
Okada said he will discuss the possible visit of Japanese Emperor Akihito to South Korea, “taking all circumstances into consideration.”
The Japanese foreign minister said this year will be an important turning point in improved Seoul-Tokyo relations. He said he hoped to revitalize exchanges between people of the two nations.
During their talks, Yu and Okada reaffirmed their positions that holding a meeting for replacing the current Korean War (1950-53) cease-fire armistice with an official peace treaty and lifting United Nations-imposed sanctions against the North should occur only after Pyongyang returns to the six-party talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear program and makes progress on denuclearization.
The talks include the United States, South and North Korea, China, Japan and Russia.
“We agreed to sustain a two-track approach of maintaining pressure on Pyongyang through sanctions while holding the door open for dialogue,” Yu said. “We will do our best to have the North come back to the table as early as possible under close consultations among the five other parties.”
Yu noted that the recent exchange of visits by high-ranking officials between the North and China indicate positive signs for the resumption of the nuclear disarmament talks.
Seoul and Tokyo established diplomatic relations in 1965, but their ties have often been strained by what many South Koreans believed were Japan’s attempts to whitewash past actions.
By Lee Min-yong [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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