SOUTH Korea urged Japan last Wednesday to heed complaints from neighbouring countries as Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi defended his visits to a shrine critics say whitewashes the country's imperialist past.
"The key to the South Korea-Japan problem and maintaining cooperative relationships among nations in the region is for Japan's government to try to win trust and respect from related countries with a correct stance on the perception of history," Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon told a regular news briefing in Seoul.
Ban was responding to Koizumi's voicing of complaints earlier about South Korea and China disputing his annual visits to the Tokyo shrine honouring Japan's war dead, including convicted war criminals. Koizumi called the ritual a "spiritual matter."
During a nationally televised news conference marking the start of the new year, Koizumi also said a leader has the right to express respect to a country's war dead, and that his visits to Yasukuni Shrine merely show his resolve that Japan should never wage war again.
South Korea and China, which suffered under Japanese World War II-era military atrocities and brutal colonial rule, have urged Koizumi to stop the shrine visits, which both interpret as a sign that Japan hasn't fully atoned for its past.
The two countries canceled customary summit meetings with Japan on the sidelines of a regional summit last month in protest against Koizumi's refusal to stop the shrine visits.
"This isn't only the position of South Korea and its people, but also many other neighbouring countries have such a position," Ban said. "I hope Japanese leaders will sincerely listen to that and take a more correct attitude on the perception of history."
Japan ruled the Korean Peninsula as a colony from 1910-45. Koreans were compelled to serve in Japan's military, work in factories as forced labour and become sex slaves at front-line brothels during World War II.