Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan [official website] on Monday apologized to South Korea [statement] for Japan's 20th-century colonization of the Korean peninsula. The statement was timed to coincide with the anniversaries of the 1910 annexation of the peninsula and the 1945 South Korean independence, which both occurred during August. In his statement, Kan emphasized the strength of the two countries' bilateral relations [CFR backgrounder] and the similarity of their societies, stating:
To the tremendous damage and sufferings that this colonial rule caused, I express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and my heartfelt apology. ... Japan and [South Korea] have become the most important and closest neighboring nations ... in [the] twenty-first century, sharing such values as democracy, freedom, and [a] market economy. Our relationship is not confined to our bilateral relations, but rather it is a partnership where we cooperate and exercise leadership for the peace and prosperity of the region and the world by encompassing a broad spectrum of agenda: the peace and stability of this region envisioning, among others, the future establishment of an East Asia community, the growth and development of the world's economy, as well as issues of global scale such as nuclear disarmament, climate change, poverty and peace-building.Kan also apologized during a phone conversation [CSM report] with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak [official website]. The statement is seen as an effort by the Japanese government to forge closer ties with South Korea. The apology was criticized Tuesday by South Korea's ruling Grand National Party for stopping short of offering compensation [Yonhap report] to the millions of Koreans forced to work as laborers and prostitutes by the Japanese military.
Japan has been accused of committing war crimes in its colonies, and the two countries still suffer from diplomatic conflicts and competition over disputed territory [Xinhua report]. In February, Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada [official profile] apologized to South Korea [JURIST report] for its colonization of the Korean peninsula. At a meeting in Seoul with South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-Hwan [official profile], Okada said that the Japanese government regrets its history of colonial rule over Korea and the alleged war crimes that resulted. Okada also praised the 1995 Murayama Statement [text], the most notable public apology for Japanese imperialism, in which the Japanese government pledged to promote peace with its Asian neighbors. Okada and Myung-Hwan agreed to work toward a more stabilized relationship [AFP report] between their countries.