South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said on Tuesday that Japan's emperor should sincerely apologize for his country's colonial rule of the Korean peninsula if he wanted to visit South Korea.
The remark came on the eve of the Liberation Day marking Korea's independence from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule, putting further pressure on Tokyo to resolve colonial-era issues following Lee's surprise visit to the disputed eastern islets of Dokdo recently.
It was for the first time that Lee explicitly demanded an apology from Japan's emperor, which is expected to further heighten tensions between the two staunch U.S. allies in the Asia-Pacific. Japan had already conveyed its displeasure over Lee's trip to the East Sea islets which Japan also claims as its territory.
If Japan's emperor "wishes to visit South Korea, I think it would be good if he apologizes sincerely to those who passed away while fighting for independence," Lee said during a meeting with teachers on how to prevent school violence at a local teachers' university.
The emperor "does not need to come" if he is going to offer an insincere apology couched in vague language, Lee said, referring to the hard-to-understand, ancient wording that Japanese Emperor Akihito used in his 1990 apology.
Lee said his visit to Dokdo, which was the first-ever by a South Korean President, had been planned for two to three years, stressing that it was not an impromptu decision. A day earlier, Lee said he decided to make the trip to show through action that Japan needs to sincerely atone for its past wrongdoing.
Lack of progress in efforts to resolve issues stemming from the brutal colonial rule, such as Japan's sexual enslavement of Korean women during World War II, has kept South Korea from fully opening its heart to Japan and moving relations between the two countries forward, Lee said.
"I have made state visits to many countries, but not to Japan. Though we do the 'shuttle diplomacy,' I would do so (making a state visit to Japan) if I am allowed to speak at Japan's Parliament on whatever I want to speak about at my will," the Yonhap news agency quoted Lee as saying.
Japan is a much bigger nation than South Korea in various terms, and therefore, should act in a way that matches its national power and resolve colonial-era issues, he said.
Japan's harsh colonial rule left deep scars on the hearts of Koreans. During that period, Koreans were banned from using their own language at schools and forced to adopt Japanese names. Hundreds of thousands of Koreans were mobilized as forced laborers and also as sex slaves, euphemistically called "comfort women," the report said.
by RTT Staff Writer
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