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(LEAD) S. Korea says Abe's speech 'very regrettable'

2015/04/30 17:54

By Lee Chi-dong

SEOUL, April 30 (Yonhap) -- South Korea denounced Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Thursday for his failure to apologize for Japan's wartime atrocities, saying he thwarted chances to mend ties with Seoul.

Responding to Abe's speech in the U.S. Congress Wednesday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said he should have used the occasion to show "righteous history perceptions."

   In Washington, Abe used much of his 45-minute speech stressing the importance of Washington-Tokyo relations and seeking to win the hearts of the American audience.

He briefly touched on the brewing regional history issue stemming from Japan's brutal colonization of Korea from 1910-45 and other wartime wrongdoings.

Although he expressed "deep remorse" over Japan's conduct during World War II and said he "upholds" apologies by his predecessors, he did not offer his own apology.

He made no direct mention of Japan's sexual enslavement of many Korean, Chinese and other Asian women for its troops.

If he did so, it could have become a "turning point" toward genuine reconciliation and cooperation with South Korea and other countries, the ministry said in a statement. "It's very regrettable that there were no such perceptions and a sincere apology."

   If Japan wants to contribute to world peace, its leaders should try to win international trust through an apology for the past, it said. "But Japan is going in the opposite direction."

   South Korean lawmakers united in criticizing Abe.

"He completely wasted his chance for the settlement of historical issues," Saenuri Party Rep. Kim Eul-dong said. "It's very pitiful and absurd to see how shameful Abe was."

   The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy said Abe's address "may worsen South Korea-Japan relations and inflict a negative impact on the country eventually."

   Despite Abe's dubious stance on history, South Korean officials said they will step up efforts to warm ice-cold ties between the neighboring countries this year.

It marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between the neighboring nations.

Abe is scheduled to deliver another major speech in August to commemorate the war anniversary.

"This year, we will endeavor to resolve issues on South Korea-Japan relations," Ju Chul-ki, senior presidential secretary for foreign affairs said at a forum here.

He reaffirmed Seoul's strategy of drawing a line between security cooperation and a decades-long history row.

Ju's comments came amid growing concerns that South Korea may be sidelined in regional security, with the U.S. and Japan bolstering their alliance.

South Korean officials dismissed a claim that Abe's ambiguous stance on shared history is attributable to Seoul's diplomatic inability.

"It's not a diplomatic failure of South Korea. It's a failure of Abe and Japan," a government official said, requesting anonymity.

Pundits agreed Seoul has been left less room for its role in regional security matters due to its strained ties with Tokyo.

"It's time that requires more realistic and flexible diplomacy," former South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said. "Under public pressure, the Park Geun-hye administration needs to make a gradual approach to improve the bilateral relations."