Local politicians pressure Tokyo

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Local politicians pressure Tokyo

Korean politicians Tuesday urged Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to offer a clear apology for Japan’s colonial rule in his statement on the Aug. 15 anniversary of the end of World War II to improve relations between the two countries.

“I eagerly look forward to seeing a statement that includes affection, sincerity and good faith, and I will pray for it,” National Assembly Speaker Chung Ui-hwa said Tuesday when he met Fukushiro Nukaga, chairman of the Japan-Korea Parliamentarians’ Union.

Nukaga visited Korea as Abe’s special envoy as Seoul and Tokyo celebrated the 50th anniversary of re-establishing diplomatic ties on Monday.

Relations between Korea and Japan have reached possibly their lowest ebb because of the Abe government’s revisionist attitude towards history, including Japan’s colonial rule of Korea and its wartime misdeeds. Bilateral relations further deteriorated as Tokyo shrugs off Seoul’s demand for a formal apology and reparations for the former “comfort women,” thousands of young women and girls forced into military brothels by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II.

A sign of a thaw was seen on Monday as Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Abe each attended parallel events to commemorate the anniversary of the diplomatic normalization. Abe said on Tuesday that he wants to keep the momentum alive to have a summit with Park. Diplomatic observers said Abe’s statement, to be issued on Aug. 15, will practically decide the future of the two countries’ relations. On Aug. 15, Korea will celebrate its 70th anniversary of liberation from Japan’s colonial rule, while Japan will observe the 70th anniversary of its surrender in World War II.

Concerns have grown that Abe will avoid using key terms, such as “apology” and “colonial rule and aggression,” that were included in statements issued on the same anniversary in 1995 and 2005 by his predecessors Prime Ministers Tomiichi Murayama and Junichiro Koizumi. Korea and other former colonies of Japan, including China, have urged Abe to respect and uphold the terms and spirit of the previous statements.

Korean politicians demanded Tuesday that Abe’s upcoming statement include a clear apology.

“It is regretful that no clear sign of change has been seen from Japan,” Saenuri Rep. Kim Jong-hoon, a former diplomat, said in an interview with MBC radio. “The kind of statement that will be issued on Aug. 15, and how the two leaders can find common ground based on that, are incredibly important.”

Kim said Korea has made efforts to improve strained relations and Japan must appreciate it and reciprocate.

The ruling party’s floor leader, Rep. Yoo Seong-min, also said he has high expectations for Abe’s Aug. 15 statement and the prospect of a Korea-Japan leaders summit.

“Because the summit will be the first in the Park government, an important agreement should be made to resolve the problems from the past and open up the future,” he said.

“Abe must offer a clear apology for Japan’s colonial rule and aggression in his statement on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II,” Kim Young-rok, senior spokesperson of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy. “There were some reports that he will just issue a personal statement, not an official government statement. Such diplomacy won’t help the two countries’ relations.”

Japanese media reported Monday that Abe may not seek Cabinet approval for his upcoming statement as a way to sidestep neighboring countries’ criticism. Abe apparently hopes to tone down the formality of the statement and make it more personal, a Japanese government source was quoted as saying by the Kyodo News Agency. The government’s official stance is usually approved by all Cabinet ministers.

Meanwhile, President Park has told Abe’s special envoy of her wish to hold a bilateral summit with Abe in the near future, a senior source told the JoongAng Ilbo Monday. According to the source, the remarks were made during Park’s meeting with Nukaga and Saenuri Rep. Suh Chung-won, his Korean counterpart, at the Blue House on Monday.

Since Park took office in 2013 and Abe in 2012, no summit has taken place between the leaders, the most telling indication of how cold ties between Seoul and Tokyo have become.

While Abe has made numerous public statements of wanting a summit with Park, the Korean government made it clear that no such meeting will take place unless there is a significant breakthrough in their deadlock in the history issue. It was the first time that Park has indicated that a summit was possible to a Japanese official.

The United States welcomed the efforts by leaders of Korea and Japan.

“I think it’s an important step that they’re ? that they’ve agreed to attend this commemoration together,” said John Kirby, State Department spokesperson, on Monday.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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