Korean President calls on Japan to face up to history

South Korea's President Park Geun-hye (C) delivers a speech during a ceremony celebrating the 95th anniversary of the March First Independence Movement against Japanese colonial rule, in Seoul March 1, 2014.

President Park Geun-hye on Saturday renewed her calls for Japan to face up to its colonial history, warning that its denial of the past would invite further diplomatic isolation.

During a ceremony to mark Independence Movement Day, Park also urged Tokyo to teach history correctly to its youth, stressing a country's historical perception serves as a "compass" that guides its path into the future.

"If (Japan) can't look back on the past, it can't open a new era. It is only natural that a leader who can't recognise (past) mistakes cannot open a new future," she said during her speech at the Sejong Center for Performing Arts in central Seoul.

"A truly courageous thing to do is not to deny its past, but to face up to its history squarely and teach correct history to the young. For the two countries to move toward a future of prosperity, Tokyo should make a righteous, courageous decision."

The relations between Seoul and Tokyo have plunged to one of their lowest ebbs in recent months due to Japan's stepped-up claim to Korea's easternmost islets of Dokdo and Tokyo's lack of contrition for its imperial-era atrocities.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine last December and a cabinet member's participation in the annual celebration of Takeshima Day (named after the Japanese name for Dokdo) has seriously strained the bilateral ties.

Anti-Japanese opinion here worsened further after Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said last Thursday that Tokyo planned to "re-verify" the testimonies of 16 Korean sex slavery victims.

The testimonies were used as the basis for the landmark 1993 statement in which then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono apologised to the victims, euphemistically called "comfort women," and admitted responsibility for their suffering.

As criticism for the apparent move against the Kono Statement surged, Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Saturday that there had not been any change yet in Tokyo's stance on the statement.

During Saturday's ceremony, Park, underscored the urgency of the issue of the comfort women, who are mostly in their 80s. Seoul has regarded the issue as a wartime human rights issue that goes beyond the bilateral relationship.

"There are now only 55 Korean women who have lived in frustration and deep agony for their entire lives. The scars of the victims must be cured. The more (Japan) denies its past, the more it would become beleaguered," she said.

"If (Japan) turns a deaf ear to voices of those surviving witnesses and does not recognise them in pursuit of political interests, it would only invite isolation."

To raise its pressure on Tokyo to recognise its wartime use of sex slaves, Seoul's Deputy Minister for Multilateral and Global Affairs Shin Dong-ik is to raise the issue of the comfort women when the UN Human Rights Council holds a high-level session in Geneva, Switzerland.