Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida delivered a spontaneous remark expressing his sympathy for the sufferings of colonial victims during his visit to South Korea on Sunday.
While speaking to reporters at the summit in Seoul, Kishida, without directly referring to the Japanese occupation of Korea between 1910 and 1945, said his heart hurts whenever he thinks about the suffering caused by Japan’s colonial rule.
“For me personally, my heart hurts when I think of the many people who endured terrible suffering and grief under the difficult circumstances of the time,” he said, adding that he believes it was his responsibility to work with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol to forge strong relationships between their countries.
“Cooperation and coordination between South Korea and Japan are essential not only for the common interests of the two countries, but also for world peace and prosperity,” Yoon said earlier in the summit.
The Japanese prime minister’s two-day visit to South Korea came less than two months after Yoon’s state visit to Japan in March.
Although Kishida’s comment was not a direct apology from his government over the tragic history, Yoon acknowledged the Japanese prime minister’s sincerity.
In a statement, Yoon thanked Kishida for “showing his sincere position even though there was no such request.” Yoon’s office reportedly confirmed that the Japanese prime minister’s remark was made spontaneously.
Before the summit, Kishida and his wife, Yuko, reportedly visited the Seoul National Cemetery, where they paid silent tribute to dead Korean War veterans, including those who fought against the Japanese occupiers.
Kishida is reportedly the first Japanese prime minister to visit the area since former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s visit 12 years ago in October 2011.
The two countries’ relationship has become shaky in the past few years over the issue of the wartime forced labor during Japan’s occupation of Korea.
The tension reached new heights in 2019 when Japan decided to remove South Korea from its trade list after a dispute ignited over compensation for victims of wartime forced labor. Japan argued that the compensation for the matter was already settled by the 1965 treaty that normalized the ties between the two countries.
Kishida and Yoon are expected to hold a trilateral meeting with Joe Biden at the Group of Seven summit in Hiroshima, Japan, in late May.