The South Korean government yesterday it was looking into latest reports that Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has indicated his willingness to "phase in" compensation for victims of its past colonization.
"We are examining and weighing the authenticity of the comments, as they were communicated through unofficial channels of dialogue," Foreign Ministry spokesman Kim Young-sun said yesterday.
Responding to questions on what Seoul`s reaction would be if the remarks turn out to be true, he said Seoul "appraises" Japan`s continued efforts to accept the past as it tries to mold forward-looking relations with Korea.
Hatoyama reportedly recently conveyed to a senior member of the U.S. Congress that he was willing to consider compensation for victims of the forced annexation of Korea that started in 1910.
Victims may include those who were drafted to fight alongside the Japanese in World War II, according to Michael Choi, an attorney representing the Association for the Pacific War Victims.
Choi told Yonhap News Agency that the Japanese prime minister made such comments in January. He failed to identify the Congressman Hatoyama spoke with.
The comments, if proven to be authentic, would have major political repercussions as it woud mean Japan was ready to reverse its previous official stance that no such compensations are possible.
Tokyo`s stance is that all damages have already been covered in a 1965 negotiation between the two nations.
"Hatoyama is known to be interested in these so-called past issues and also is outspoken about his intentions to improve relations with Japan`s Asian neighbors, so there is a possibility that he may be considering further indemnities," one high-ranking Foreign Ministry official said.
Others added, however, that Seoul is refraining from "jumping to conclusions" since it would be difficult for Hatoyama to completely turn around past policies.
"It also seems unlikely for the prime minister to become suddenly more willing to address past wrongs when his ratings are falling, and with elections around the corner," one diplomatic source said.
Hatoyama is reportedly struggling against declining approval ratings as elections for its House of Councilors are looming in July. Support for the Hatoyama administration late last month fell to 37 percent from over 40 percent, according to a poll conducted by Asahi Shimbun.
Domestic politics often play a major role in shaping Japan`s external policies, as conservatives remain opposed to Tokyo taking further steps to address past war crimes.
Korea and Japan have so far been on positive ground following the inauguration of Hatoyama last year.
President Lee Myung-bak and the Japanese leader have vowed to mend ties while remaining committed to resolving past conflict.
Marking the 100th anniversary of Japan`s forced annexation of Korea this year, Japan`s Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said Tokyo understands the pain of the victims of colonization.
By Kim Ji-hyun