Japan and South Korea Tensions Flare on War-End Anniversary
(Bloomberg) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in left the door open for talks with Japan in a speech marking his neighbor’s World War II surrender as several Japanese cabinet members visited a war-linked shrine seen by many in Asia as a symbol of its past militarism.
In his last Liberation Day speech as president to mark the end of Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule over the peninsula, Moon said his government was ready to work with Japan on threats to the world such as the coronavirus pandemic and climate change. “We always keep the door open for conversation,” he said in a nationally televised address Sunday.
In Tokyo on the Sunday anniversary of Japan’s Aug. 15, 1945 surrender, at least three members of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s cabinet -- Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, Education Minister Koichi Hagiuda and Shinji Inoue, the world expo minister -- visited Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 14 wartime leaders convicted as Class A war criminals alongside other war dead. Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi went Friday, for what the ministers said were personal visits to honor the war-dead.
The visits by sitting members of Japan’s cabinet are typically seen as crossing a diplomatic red line among victims of Japan’s wartime aggression in South Korea and China. Moon’s single, five-year term that ends in May has coincided with a plunge in relations between Tokyo and Seoul.
“The government expresses its deep disappointment and regret that the leaders of the Japanese government once again made offerings to Yasukuni Shrine, where war criminals were enshrined and Japan’s past wars of aggression are glorified,” South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The rift between the countries that host the bulk of U.S. troops in Asia shows the difficulties President Joe Biden faces in mending frayed ties between the neighbors, who are key to ensuring supply chains and providing security against the strategic threats posed by China and North Korea.
Moon’s government has accused Japan of failing to show proper contrition over historical issues. It has also supported decisions by South Korean courts in recent years that ordered compensation for Korean workers conscripted to work in Japan’s wartime factories and mines.
But Japan has said all claims were “settled completely and finally,” as a part of a 1965 treaty that established diplomatic ties between the two countries and has called some of the legal proceedings a violation of international law.
While Moon has repeatedly left the door open for talks, Tokyo has shown no signs of wanting a meeting. There hasn’t been a formal summit between the leaders of the neighbors since December 2019 and Suga has said there can’t be progress while South Korean courts pursue Japan over wartime labor issues.
Suga has shown no intention of visiting Yasukuni on the anniversary of Japan’s surrender, but Kyodo News said he did send an offering to the shrine. Suga’s predecessor as premier, Shinzo Abe, visited Yasukuni on Sunday, the Nikkei newspaper reported. Abe in 2013 was the last sitting prime minister to visit the shrine.
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