Go Search Go Contents Go to bottom site map

(2nd LD) S. Koreans 'disappointed' with rhetoric, absence of new apology in Abe statement

2015/08/14 23:20

(ATTN: ADDS comments)

SEOUL, Aug. 14 (Yonhap) -- South Korean political parties and civic groups expressed their dismay Friday over Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's war anniversary statement, noting he failed to sincerely apologize for his country's wartime atrocities.

The ruling Saenuri Party said Abe's statement, released on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, was "disappointing" in that it only made an indirect reference to Korean and other Asian women who were forced into sex slavery for Japanese troops, or "comfort women," with Abe saying there were "women behind the battlefields whose honor and dignity were severely injured."

   "The statement today expressed remorse and apology in past tense, rather than in direct reference," said Kim Young-woo, the party's spokesman. "Rather than getting caught up in wordy and ambiguous expressions, we will continue to press Japan to put in practical efforts for sincere remorse over its past and for peace."

   Abe said in the statement: "Japan has repeatedly expressed the feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for its actions during the war."

   Suh Chung-won, a Saenuri lawmaker who heads the Korea-Japan Parliamentarians' Union, also expressed his disappointment that Abe discussed remorse and apology in the past tense.

"At our union's general meeting, we called for steps be taken to restore victims' dignity and to heal their wounds," Suh said. "It's regrettable that this statement made no direct mention of the sex slavery, which is a symbolic matter of Japan's wartime past."

   Another ruling party lawmaker, Na Kyung-won, chairwoman of the National Assembly's Foreign Affairs Committee, chimed in: "It's regrettable that (Abe) lost a chance for Japan to move further toward becoming a more mature nation."

   While the ruling party noted that even an indirect reference to remorse and apology rendered the statement significant, the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) argued that Abe still lacked sincerity.

NPAD spokesman Kim Sung-soo said the Japanese prime minister only sought to "evade responsibility."

   "By making colonization seem an inevitable choice, (the statement) virtually got Japan off the hook as a perpetrator," Kim said. "It's quite regrettable that it only referred to the comfort women as those whose honor and dignity were hurt. We can only view this statement as something that only tried to evade responsibility through diplomatic rhetoric, rather than offering heartfelt apology and remorse over colonization."

   Kim stressed that Japan "will never develop into a future-oriented nation" if it continues to avoid accepting responsibility for its past action.

Sim Jae-kwon, a NPAD legislator who serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said the word "disappointment" sums up his feelings toward Abe's statement.

"I don't think we can expect our bilateral relations to develop in an amiable way with the Abe government," Sim added. "I think the statement captures the essence of the Abe regime. We won't be able to discuss Korea-Japan relations, peace and future with his government."

   Civic groups echoed NPAD's sentiment that Abe lacked sincerity in his statement. Some were particularly upset with Abe's hinting that Japan has already done its share as far as apologizing goes.

"We must not let our children, grandchildren and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologize," Abe said.

Yang Sun-im, president of the Association for the Pacific War Victims, said Abe might as well not have issued a statement at all.

"When he says the future generations won't have to apologize, he's essentially saying they can start another war," Yang said. Adding that Abe has been pushing to make it legal to exercise Japan's right to collective self-defense, Yang said, "Abe is turning his people into warmongers."

   Lee Joo-sung, who heads a cooperative body of families of wartime forced laborers, said he doesn't consider Abe's statement an apology at all.

"If Abe had just followed former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama and apologized, the issue would have been settled," Lee said, referring to Murayama's landmark 1995 statement in which he offered "a heartfelt apology" over Japan's past "aggression" and "colonial rule."

   "The future generations won't be able to usher in a new era of Korea-Japan relations this way," Lee added.

Abe's stance is in contrast with German Chancellor Angela Merkel's position on her country's own wartime past. In January, marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Merkel said Germans had "an everlasting responsibility" to preserve the memories of Nazi crimes.

"We must not forget," she said at the time. "We owe that to the many millions of victims."

   Then in May, commemorating the 70th anniversary of World War II's end, Merkel insisted Germany can't just ignore its Nazi past and said, "One can't draw the line in history."

   One surviving victim of wartime sex slavery also voiced her displeasure over Abe's lack of apology.

Kang Il-chool, who watched Abe reading from his statement on television, was reduced to tears of anger.

"There are victims who are still alive here, and he only talked about how the atomic bombings hurt his people," the 87-year-old said at the House of Sharing, a home for former sex slaves in Gwangju, Gyeonggi Province, just south of Seoul. "The people who started the war made no mention of the victims."

   Ahn Shin-kwon, director of the House of Sharing, said Abe failed to make the same acknowledgment of Japan's sexual slavery that former Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono made in his 1993 statement.

"With such a vague expression as 'honor and dignity were severely injured,' (Abe) deceived us and the international community," Ahn added.

There are 47 surviving victims, after eight have died this year alone. Only 238 women have been registered with the South Korean government as former sex slaves, though historians estimate that more than 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, were sexually enslaved by Japanese troops during World War II.