Park tells Japan: Back pledge with 'consistent and sincere actions'

South Korean president Park Geun Hye.
South Korean president Park Geun Hye. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

South Korea's President Park Geun Hye has urged Japan to show "consistent and sincere actions" to back its pledge to uphold previous Cabinets' position on history.

In a speech to mark her country's 70th year of independence from Japanese colonial rule yesterday, she also said that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's statement on Friday "leaves much to be desired".

In the televised speech to commemorate Liberation Day, Ms Park did not, as some critics had hoped, condemn Mr Abe for not issuing his own apology for Japan's war crimes.

Instead, she urged Japan to "demonstrate with consistent and sincere actions its pledge to inherit the recognition of history by the previous Cabinets, so as to win trust from neighbouring countries and the international community".

Mr Abe had on Friday expressed "profound grief" towards the war dead and said that "we have engraved in our hearts the histories of suffering" of the people in Asia, including China and South Korea.

He also pledged that the previous Cabinets' position on Japan's war past "will remain unshakable into the future" - a point Ms Park noted in her own national address.

President Park also urged Japan to resolve the issue of comfort women victims as soon as possible.

Japan's reluctance to acknowledge and compensate for the sufferings of military sex slaves, as well as territorial disputes over Dokdo island, which the Japanese call Takeshima, had been a source of friction between the two countries.

Contrary to Mr Abe's stand that what was done in history cannot be undone, Ms Park stressed that "history lives through the vivid testimonies of witnesses" - a reference to the unwavering efforts of surviving comfort women victims in demanding for justice from Japan.

She hopes Tokyo would stay committed to maintaining peace in North-east Asia with an open mind.

Various officials expressed disappointment over Mr Abe's lack of sincerity and the fact that his statement did not directly address the issue of comfort women, saying only that "we must never forget that there were women behind the battlefields whose honour and dignity were severely injured".

Historians reckon more than 200,000 women, mostly from Korea, were forced to serve at Japan's military brothels during the war.

Yonhap news agency noted that the comfort women issue has "gained urgency as the victims are dying off". Of the 238 victims registered with the South Korean government, only 47 are still living, with their average age nearly 90.

Yesterday, Ms Park also urged North Korea to stop its provocations along the border, warning that Seoul will deal with them sternly.

This came hours after Pyongyang threatened "indiscriminate strikes" against the South for resuming propaganda broadcasts along the border, in response to a land-mine blast inside the demilitarised zone that was blamed on the North. Pyongyang denied involvement.

North Korea's continued provocations can only lead to isolation and destruction, said Ms Park, who called for efforts in improving North-South relations.

"Real liberation from colonial rule is not complete until we achieve reunification," she added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 16, 2015, with the headline 'Park tells Japan: Back pledge with 'consistent and sincere actions''. Print Edition | Subscribe