South Korean President Park Geun-hye accused Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of falling short with a key World War II anniversary statement in her own Liberation Day address on Saturday.
Less than 24 hours after Abe’s much-anticipated comments on Tokyo’s past abuses, including during its 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula, Park suggested that the Japanese leader’s failure to offer a clear apology left a lot “to be desired.”
The president was backed by another victim of Japanese colonization, China, whose foreign ministry said that Abe should have been more “explicit” with his choice of words.
"Japan should have given a clear account of the nature of the aggression war launched by Japanese militarists and its responsibility, offered sincere apologies to people of countries that suffered in the war, and broken with the militarism past rather than glossing over history," state news agency Xinhua quoted Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying as saying.
Japan’s current administration has repeatedly been accused of taking a conservative approach to its imperialist deeds, such as the sexual enslavement of thousands of Korean women.
In South Korea, less than 50 now elderly so-called "comfort women" are still alive and awaiting closure in the form of direct atonement from Tokyo.
Even though former Japanese governments have apologised for colonial era abuses, Park called on the present leadership to “demonstrate with consistent and sincere actions its pledge to inherit the recognition of history by previous Cabinets.”
Abe did vow that those other apologies would “remain unshakable,” effectively reassuring those who feared that he might attempt to revise history.
But by failing to personalise key aspects of his speech, and by only vaguely making reference to the sex slavery issue, criticisms of the Japanese prime minister are set to linger in South Korea.
He received praise, however, from the United States, as the White House welcomed his expression of remorse and commitment to past Japanese statements.
Washington’s view, however, is likely to only complicate an already complex pair of alliances with Seoul and Tokyo – Park has so far refused to hold a bilateral summit with Abe, but they have met in the presence of US President Barack Obama.
As for North Korea, it went significantly further than its southern neighbour with a condemnation of Abe’s comments.
“It is an unpardonable mockery of the Korean people and an act of deceiving the international community,” said a spokesperson for Pyongyang’s Foreign Ministry.