Actions over wordsJapanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan apologized on Tuesday to the Korean people for Japan’s 35-year colonial rule of the country.
The apology was stronger than previous statements by officials to the extent that it admitted that Japan forcibly ruled Korea.
Although falling short of acknowledging the men who were forced into manual labor and the women who were made to serve as sex slaves for the Japanese army, the prime minister nevertheless expressed sincerity and looked to bolster bilateral relations between the two countries.
Kan expressed “deep remorse” and offered a “heartfelt apology for the tremendous damage and suffering caused during the colonial rule.”
The speech was similar to the apology former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama made years ago to Korea and other Asian countries for Japanese military aggression in the early 20th century, except that it subtly acknowledged the forced occupation of Korea.
Moreover, in efforts to cement ties with Korea, Kan said Japan would soon return the royal documents of the Joseon Dynasty that it took during the colonial period.
The return of Korea’s historical relics is long overdue, but it nevertheless will remove some of the existing hurdles to improving bilateral relations. The historic documents include 282 books recording royal court ceremonies, 375 books on Confucius, medicine and the military, and 17 textbooks for royal families.
We sincerely hope the return of these books will serve as a catalyst for the return of other historic artifacts taken during the Japanese occupation.
A year ago, 1,000 scholars from Korea and Japan issued a statement that said Korea was forced to sign the annexation treaty in 1910 and therefore it was invalid.
Kan, however, fell short of mentioning the illegality of the treaty and only beat around the bush by apologizing for its consequences.
As he proposed, however, the two countries should move ahead and put the past to rest. But relations between Japan and Korea cannot squeeze through the bottleneck unless actual actions follow words.
We will wait and see if the renewed apology will bring such tangible actions.
We have too often been fooled and upset by Japan’s arbitrary and insular attitudes toward historical issues, like its claim over the Dokdo islets and its historical distortions in school textbooks.
Only actions will help open new doors to a better relationship and move towards the common goal of creating a partnership for co-prosperity and lasting peace in East Asia.