South Korea’s President Thanks Japan's Former Emperor for Thaw in Ties

(Bloomberg) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in wrote to former Japanese Emperor Akihito to thank him for contributing to improving ties, in a gesture that could help thaw chilly diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Moon sent the letter as the former emperor relinquished his crown to his son Crown Prince Naruhito. Akihito has emphasized the importance of guarding peace during his reign and Moon expects that he would continue to help improve the two countries’ relations after he steps down, South Korea’s foreign ministry spokesman Kim In-chul said in briefing Tuesday.

Akihito ended his three-decade reign Tuesday, concluding the imperial era known as Heisei. His son, Crown Prince Naruhito, 59, will officially ascend the throne Wednesday. The 85-year-old Akihito humanized the role of the emperor, visiting shelters and meeting with survivors after major disasters.

Akihito made an unprecedented apology for the wartime aggression committed in the name of his father, Hirohito, which helped ease often fraught relations with neighbors China and South Korea. When a South Korean president visited Tokyo in 1990, Akihito expressed “deepest regret” for the sufferings Japan caused when it colonized South Korea.

The historical wounds still hamper the two neighbors from advancing their diplomatic relations, which are at their lowest level in years.

South Korea’s Supreme Court last year ruled that Japanese companies must compensate Koreans who were forced to work in their factories during the Japanese occupation of Korea between 1910-1945, a decision that triggered backlashes and criticism from Japan.

Relations worsened after Moon disbanded a comfort women fund established with Japanese donations by the prior presidential administration. In February, National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang demanded that the emperor apologize to the Korean women who were forced to work at Japanese military brothels during World War II.

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