(2nd LD) S. Korea slams Japan's remarks over Korean independence hero
SEOUL/BEIJING, Jan. 20 (Yonhap) -- The South Korean government on Monday harshly condemned in an unusually strong-worded statement a Japanese official's "ignorant and anti-historic" remarks, which had called its national hero a terrorist.
Earlier in the day, Japan's chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo that Ahn Jung-geun was a terrorist who had been sentenced to death by killing Japan's first Prime Minister Hirobumi Ito.
He made the remark while commenting on China's opening of a Memorial hall on Sunday to honor the Korean independence fighter, saying Japan would lodge a protest with China through a diplomatic channel.
"Ahn Jung-geun is a hero who had sacrificed himself for the recovery of Korea's independence and for truce peace in Asia (from Japan's imperialism in the early 20th century)," the Foreign Ministry in Seoul said in its spokesman's statement titled "Japan's chief cabinet secretary who has turned a blind eye to the conscience of the history."
Ito was the main culprit in exerting inexpressible suffering and evil by masterminding the plundering of the Korean Peninsula by force, the statement said.
"It's astonishing that a person who speaks for the Japanese government has made such ignorant and anti-historic remarks," it added.
Ahn shot to death Ito, the Korean Peninsula's first Japanese governor-general, at a railway station in the northern Chinese city of Harbin in 1909.
China also dismissed earlier in the day a diplomatic protest by Japan over its memorial to the revered Korean independence hero as unacceptable, renewing its calls for Japanese leaders to squarely face history.
"Ahn Jung-geun is a famous anti-Japanese personnel who is also respected by the Chinese people," China's foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters at a daily briefing.
"The establishment of the relevant memorial facility is completely reasonable and justified," Hong said. "We can't accept the opposition."
Hong urged "the Japanese leaders to squarely face history and win the trust of Asian neighbors as well as the international community."
China's move to honor Ahn, widely seen as a slap in the face to Japan, comes as Japan's relations with its neighbors, especially with Beijing and Seoul, have plunged to one of their lowest points in many years over their shared history and territorial disputes.
Japan drew scathing criticism from South Korea and China after its prime minister, Shinzo Abe, paid homage late last month to the Yasukuni Shrine that honors 14 Class-A convicted criminals by the Allied forces after World War II.
South Korea and China had been in "close cooperation" to build the memorial at the Harbin railway station, a diplomatic source said earlier in the day.
China had been originally considering setting up a monument to honor Ahn since South Korean President Park Geun-hye asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to do so during their summit last June.
Instead of a monument, however, China decided to build the memorial hall and informed South Korea of the plan last autumn, the source said on the condition of anonymity.
"Since President Park paid a state visit to China last June, the two nations have been in close cooperation on how to set up a monument for Patriot Ahn Jung-geun," the source said.
"In late autumn last year, the Chinese side notified us that it would build something beyond a monument," the source said.
The assassination by Ahn took place a year before the Korean Peninsula was formally subjugated by Japan as its colony. At that time, Korea, which remained as a kingdom, was helpless, as its diplomatic power was usurped by Japan. In 1910, Ahn was executed at a Japanese prison in the northern Chinese city of Ryojun, now called Lushun, in the same year.
South Korea's foreign ministry welcomed the memorial hall on Monday, expressing hope that it will provide an "opportunity for Northeast Asian nations to set the path for genuine peace and cooperation based on correct historical awareness."