Distrust between South Korea and Japan is sky high: Poll

TOKYO (AFP) - Distrust between South Korea and Japan is sky high, a new poll showed on Tuesday, as ties between two of Washington's key Asian allies continue to deteriorate over historical grievances.

A record-high 73 per cent of Japanese say their neighbour is untrustworthy, while 85 per cent of South Koreans do not trust Tokyo, a joint survey by the Yomiuri Shimbun and Hankook Ilbo dailies said.

Only 4 per cent of South Koreans think Japanese prime ministerial statements apologising for the 1910-1945 colonial rule and other atrocities are "enough", against 94 per cent who say they are not, the survey said. The figures compare with 76 per cent of Japanese who think their government has done enough to atone for its warring past, with 17 per cent who say it has not.

Asked which countries pose a military threat to their nation, six in 10 South Koreans say "Japan", second only to North Korea, which is viewed as a worry by 78 per cent of people polled.

Japanese people rank China as the largest threat (84 per cent), followed by North Korea, Russia, the United States and South Korea, with just 23 per cent.

The findings come less than two weeks before the two countries are scheduled to mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties, at a time when relations remain dogged by bitter disputes over history and territory.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made numerous overtures to South Korean President Park Geun Hye, offering to hold summits, but has been rebuffed since the two came to power in late 2012 and early 2013, respectively.

Ms Park has said there can be no meeting until Japan makes amends for its wartime system of sex slavery, which saw as many as 200,000 mostly South Korean women forced into servitude for the Imperial military.

Tokyo has formally apologised over what it euphemistically calls "comfort women," notably in 1993, but apparent equivocation by nationalist Abe and others on the right has angered Koreans.

Japanese conservatives tend to accept the existence of wartime brothels, but say either that they were staffed by ordinary prostitutes or that the Japanese state and its military were not formally involved in their running.

Commentators suggest Japanese people are suffering from what they call "Korea fatigue", and are tired of Seoul's demands for repeated apologies for events that took place seven decades earlier.

Seoul, for its part, insists the window for genuine contrition is closing as the few dozen surviving former "comfort women" become increasingly old and frail.

The poll showed 61 per cent of Japanese and 74 per cent of South Koreas believe their countries' current "bad relationship" is "inevitable as long as the other side continues to make unacceptable claims".

While Europe has laid its World War II ghosts firmly to rest, the conflict's legacy and differing interpretations of what happened continue to poison East Asia's communal well.

China also regularly lambasts Japan for what it says is its "incorrect attitude to history", and calls on Tokyo to make amends for its wrongdoing.

Japan, which has made its peace with most of the countries that suffered under its imperialist boot, increasingly views these calls as an attempt by the governments of China and South Korea to bolster their own popularity at home.

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