Korea expresses ‘regret’ at Abe’s failed apology

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Korea expresses ‘regret’ at Abe’s failed apology

The Korean government expressed “regret” that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe failed to properly acknowledge Japan’s responsibility for its wartime aggressions, considered a missed opportunity to help mend ties between Seoul and Tokyo.

Lawmakers here are uneasy about the effect of Korea’s continued hard-line stance on Japan will have, not just on relations with Tokyo but also on Seoul’s alliance with Washington, especially as Abe refuses to budge from his usual rhetoric on historical issues.

“It’s regrettable that [Prime Minister Abe] himself missed a golden opportunity to confirm the correct perception of history,” Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Yun Byung-se said Friday in a meeting with the ruling Saenuri party at the National Assembly. “The stable development of Korea-Japan relations has to be based on the correct perception of history.”

“We will put effort in to cooperate with the international community and set straight Japan’s revisionist attitude toward history,” he continued.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Noh Gwang-il on Thursday said it was “very regrettable” that Abe’s 45-minute speech on Wednesday at a joint session of the U.S. Congress “lacked a sincere apology” for Japan’s wartime crimes.

In the first address by a Japanese prime minister to both houses of the Congress, Abe vaguely expressed his “deep remorse” over the events that occurred during World War II. “Our actions brought suffering to the people in Asian countries,” he said, adding that he would uphold the views expressed by the country’s previous prime ministers in regard to its history, apparently referring to apologies such as that by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama in 1995 for Japan’s colonial rule and wartime aggression.

However, as in previous remarks that week at Harvard and in a joint press conference with U.S. President Barack Obama, Abe avoided repeating an actual apology like his predecessors and did not address Japan’s responsibility for the forced recruitment of some 200,000 women, many of them Korean, to serve as military sex slaves during the war.

Abe proved he is not incapable of more consideration for Japan’s wartime aggressions, however, at least toward American officials. To Congress, he said, “On behalf of Japan .?.?. I offer with profound respect my eternal condolences to the souls of all the American people who were lost during World War II.”

He added that he stood with “deep repentance” in his heart on his earlier visit to Arlington National Cemetery.

President Obama and Abe acted quite chummy at a state dinner afterward, calling each other by their first names and sharing sake and haikus to emphasize the U.S.-Japan military alliance.

Seoul has been troubled by the thought it may be left behind as thorny relations with Japan continue, particularly in light of Abe’s much publicized weeklong official visit to the United States and unexpected talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping last month on the sidelines of the Asian-African Conference in Jakarta.

Yoo Seung-min, the floor leader of the ruling party, expressed to Yun at a foreign affairs and security meeting his concerns about the lack of a proper Korean diplomatic strategy with its key partners, such as Washington, Tokyo and Beijing.

“I am concerned whether bundling history, security and economy like this in regard to relations with Japan is a mature posture and in line with national interest,” said Yoo. “Looking at the situation in Washington, with Prime Minister Abe’s summit with President Barack Obama and Abe’s U.S. Congress speech, I am worried whether we are suitably managing our alliance with the United States that we always speak about.”

Yoo, along with other Saenuri leaders including Won Yoo-chul, a senior policy maker of the party, voiced public concern that since the start of the Park Geun-hye administration, there has been no progress in this area.

Despite a number of cabinet reshuffles, Yun has served as foreign minister since Park took office in February 2013.

However, Yun brushed off concerns that Korea is being isolated.

“Such perceptions are an exaggerated interpretation,” he explained, citing constructive cooperation ties with China, the conclusion of key agreements with the United States, such as the bilateral civilian nuclear accord, and Washington’s consideration of the Korea-U.S.-Japan trilateral relationship in its security strategy.

“Prime Minister Abe’s visit can be described as having come about as Japan and the United States’ interests have overlapped,” Yun said, adding that as it tries to increase its presence in the region, Washington plans to invite four key East Asian countries to the United States this year.

He added that the most important aspect of Abe’s trip was to secure new U.S.-Japan defense cooperation guidelines.

The new U.S.-Japan defense guidelines enable Tokyo’s rights to exercise collective self-defense, or the right to wage war outside its borders, which has been met with trepidation in Seoul as it would enable Japanese troops leeway to enter the Korean Peninsula.

Yun also explained to the lawmakers that the revised U.S.-Japan defense pact “will not allow [Japan’s] Self-Defense Forces to enter our territory without our prior consent under any circumstances.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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