Seoul keeps up demand for a heartfelt apology

South Korean President Park Geun Hye.
South Korean President Park Geun Hye.PHOTO: EPA

South Korea is keeping up pressure on Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to apologise for wartime atrocities in his upcoming speech to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

But some officials and commentators say that even if Mr Abe apologises, it is unlikely to be sincere.

Japan's state broadcaster has reported that a draft copy of Mr Abe's statement includes the words "apology", "remorse" and "aggression", amid growing speculation that the nationalist leader might not specifically apologise like his predecessors did.

"Korean people are upset that Abe may fall short of offering a sincere apology, and we should put pressure on Japan by all means," lawmaker Na Kyung Won was quoted as saying in an interview yesterday.

 

A sincere apology will help mend frayed ties between the two countries and ease tension in North-east Asia, experts say.

South Korea has repeatedly demanded that Japan acknowledge the suffering of Korean women who were forced into military sex slavery, and to compensate them. The two are also embroiled in territorial disputes over Dokdo Island off the east coast of South Korea, which is known as Takeshima in Japan.

Anti-Japanese sentiments have risen recently, partly fuelled by the box-office success of the historical espionage film Assassination, which tells the story of a group of independence fighters embarking on a mission to take down key Japanese leaders during the colonial era.

South Korean President Park Geun Hye has taken a particularly hard stance against Japan, insisting that it will be pointless to meet for a summit if there is no formal apology from Japan.

On Monday, she urged the Japanese government to "explicitly uphold the perception of history" held by previous administrations. Former prime ministers Tomiichi Murayama and Junichiro Koizumi had earlier used the words "heartfelt apology" in their statements.

"I hope that Japan will display sincerity in its commitment to renew relations with its neighbours, including Korea," she was quoted as saying in a meeting with her aides.

Some remain sceptical that Mr Abe would offer a heartfelt apology.

"I think it will be a declaration without any sincerity. Or he will change his position pretty soon just after the speech to save face," said former political science professor Kim Wang Sik.

He said that a sincere apology would not just ease tension and boost trade and tourism.

"The more important thing is better relations between the two countries will improve regional security as they collaborate with each other against tension from the nuclear North Korea," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2015, with the headline 'Seoul keeps up demand for a heartfelt apology'. Print Edition | Subscribe