President Park Geun-hye on Saturday welcomed Japan’s announcement to uphold past apologies for its imperial-era wrongdoings, raising cautious optimism for a thaw in the bilateral ties frayed by historical and territorial feuds.
The announcement raised prospects of the first summit between Park and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the Nuclear Security Summit to be held in the Netherlands later this month.
But skepticism lingers as the two sides remain poles apart over a set of long-festering thorny issues including Tokyo’s claim to Korea’s easternmost islets of Dokdo.
“It is fortunate that Prime Minister Abe announced that his government would inherit the Murayama and Kono Statements,” Park was quoted as saying by her spokesperson Min Kyung-wook.
“I hope that (the announcement) would become an opportunity to relieve the pains of the elderly victims of sexual slavery and to enhance relations between South Korea and Japan.”
The Abe government had angered South Korea and China, two major victims of Japan’s past militarism, by showing its desire to revise the two landmark statements.
In the 1995 Murayama Statement, former Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama officially apologized for his country’s colonial occupation of Asian states including Korea.
In the 1993 Kono Statement, then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono apologized to the victims of sexual slavery, called “comfort women,” and admitted responsibility for their suffering. Historians put the number of victims at around 200,000.
Last month, Tokyo revealed its plan to “re-verify” the testimonies of 16 Korean sex slavery victims, which were used as the basis for the Kono Statement.