Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Tuesday offered Tokyo's latest apology to South Korea for Japanese colonial rule, as part of an effort to strengthen ties between the two countries ahead of the 100th anniversary of Japanese aggression against Korea. During the Japan's occupation of the Korean peninsula from 1910-45, many Koreans were forced to fight as front-line soldiers, work in slave-labor conditions, or serve as prostitutes in brothels operated by the military. The issue of Japanese wartime aggression against its Asian neighbors is still a sensitive one more than half a century later.
Kan's statement, which was approved by the Cabinet, apologized specifically to Korea. Earlier apologies by Japan for wartime actions have been made broadly to the country's Asian neighbors. "By reflecting on the things that should be reflected on, we can build a relationship between Japan and Korea that is future-looking and further strengthen the ties between the two countries," said chief government spokesman Yoshito Sengoku.
The apology comes ahead of the 100-year anniversary of Tokyo's annexation of the Korean peninsula on Aug. 29. Kan also said Japan would soon return Korean cultural artifacts to the country, including historical documents, according to Japanese broadcaster NHK. Kan also reportedly spoke with South Korea's president after the statement was approved.
Despite their troubled history, Tokyo and Seoul remain closely tied economically and militarily. Both countries host tens of thousands of U.S. troops, and Japan was quick to stand by South Korea after it accused North Korea of sinking one of its warships in March, killing 46 sailors.
Tokyo has repeatedly apologized in the past for aggression against its Asian neighbors. An apology in 1995 marking the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII has become the government's official stance.