|Small screens show President Park Geun-hye as participants listen to her speech during a ceremony to commemorate the March 1, 1919 Independence Movement Day at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in central Seoul, Sunday. / AP-Yonhap|
By Kang Seung-woo
President Park Geun-hye renewed a call Sunday for Japan to own up to its wartime atrocities, including the sexual enslavement of Asian women, before jointly ushering in a new era of partnership.
“It is time for Korea and Japan to write a new history together for another 50 years, just as Germany and France became new leaders in the building of a new Europe after overcoming conflict and hostilities between each other,” Park.
Park made the remark in a speech commemorating Korea’s 1919 nationwide uprising movement against Japan’s 1910-45 colonial occupation of the peninsula.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of normalization of diplomatic ties between the two nations and the 70th anniversary of Seoul’s liberation from Tokyo.
Park denounced the Japanese leaders for maintaining a political shift to the right by pursuing militarism and urged them to change their political stance.
“The government has made efforts to enter a new era of cooperation between the two countries, but the historical disputes have strained bilateral relations despite their geographical proximity,” she said.
Citing the elderly victims of the sexual enslavement, Park also pressed the Japanese government to quickly resolve the issue.
“The human rights issue of the survivors is an historical task that must be resolved. There is little time left to restore the honor of victims because their average age is reaching 90,” Park said.
Approximately 200,000 women, many of them Koreans, were forced to work in Japanese military brothels during World War II, but the number of registered “comfort women” has decreased from 238 to 53.
Park also lashed out at Japan’s attempt to gloss over its wartime aggression.
Earlier this year, Tokyo was found to have pressed a U.S. textbook publisher to revise a description of the sexual enslavement. This drew protest from American historical scholars, saying that such ceaseless moves have hurt Japan’s relations with Korea.
The bilateral relations are at their worst ever due to the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Cabinet’s denial of history and its claims to Korea’s easternmost islets of Dokdo.
Meanwhile, Park urged North Korea to break its silence on the South’s proposal for talks, especially regarding the reunion of separated families.
“North Korea should not ignore inter-Korean dialogue anymore,” she said.
The reclusive country has refused a proposal by the South for talks in retaliation to joint military exercises between Seoul and Washington and the cross-border distribution of anti-Pyongyang leaflets by North Korean defectors.
Park also stressed the need for vigorous inter-Korean exchanges at a non-governmental level in order to establish cultural homogeneity between the two Koreas.