Reporting from Seoul —
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Sunday termed Japan's recent apology for its 35-year colonial rule of the Korean peninsula "one step forward," but he said more must be done to foster better relations between the two nations.
In a nationally televised speech to mark the anniversary of liberation from Japanese rule, Lee focused on the future instead of the pain suffered at the hands of foreigners.
Many older South Koreans remember being forced to adopt Japanese surnames, fight as Japan's soldiers and work as prostitutes, or "comfort women," for the military.
"I have taken note of Japan's deep remorse and sincere apology in labeling the colonial rule as that which was against the will of the Korean people," Lee said. "This represents one step forward. However, there still remain issues that have to be resolved. The two countries are called on to take concrete measures to forge a new relationship for another 100 years."
Last week, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan apologized to South Koreans "for the enormous damage and suffering" inflicted by his nation from 1910 until 1945.
On Sunday, the 65th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II, Kan apologized for the suffering caused by his country and shunned a visit to the controversial Yasukuni shrine, which honors Japan's war dead.
Kan chose to appear at a different venue, an annual memorial service for the war dead, which was also attended by Emperor Akihito.
"We caused great damage and suffering to many nations during the war, especially to the people of Asia," Kan said. "We feel a deep regret, and we offer our sincere feelings of condolence to those who suffered and their families.
"We renew our promise to never wage war, and we promise to do our utmost to achieve eternal world peace, and to never repeat again the mistake of war," he said.
South Korean analysts say Kan's apology to Koreans ran political risks in Japan.
"Kan's Liberal Democratic Party probably knew it will face tough criticism from Japan's right-wing politicians and groups for the apology," said Chung Jae-jeong, president of the Northeast Asian History Foundation. "But he followed through with this significant decision as we mark 100 years since Japanese colonial rule began."
On Sunday, a solemn-looking Kim stressed that Tokyo must put its words into action. His comments echoed the sentiments of many voters and newspaper editorials in South Korea, which called on Japan to help forge a new path.
"The two nations should never forget history, while at the same time working together to develop a new kind of future," Kim said. "This is the way and direction Seoul and Tokyo have to take."
Officials in Seoul on Sunday echoed Lee's sentiments.
"Both President Lee's and Prime Minister Kan's remarks show that the two nations cannot dwell on the past," said a senior government official in Seoul who asked not to be identified. "There's a lot of issues between the neighboring countries to be ironed out … so the common emphasis was on the future, because now is the time to move on with what needs to be done."
Kim is a researcher in The Times' Seoul Bureau.