Former Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama said Wednesday he believes current Japanese leader Shinzo Abe will honor a 1995 apology that he issued while in office for the country's colonization of Korea in the early 20th century.
The 89-year-old former Japanese leader made the remarks during a speech at the National Assembly amid concern that Abe could refuse to inherit the so-called Murayama statement and a similar apology issued in 1993 by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono.
"Prime Minister Abe once stated at the parliament that he inherits the Murayama statement," Murayama said in the speech. "I respect this and believe he will carry it out."
The apologies have been considered the basis of relations between South Korea and Japan. A rebuke of the statements by Abe would cast a pall over relations between the two countries by indicating that Japan no longer feels remorse for its militaristic past.
South Korea has regarded Abe as pursuing nationalistic agenda, such as his push for the right to "collective self-defense" that would empower Japan to fight alongside its allies, something that has been considered beyond the scope of its war-renouncing constitution.
Relations between Seoul and Tokyo have been badly strained due to Japan's refusal to address long-running grievances over sexual slavery and other atrocities committed during its 1910-45 colonial rule of Korea and its repeated claims to South Korea's easternmost islets of Dokdo.
Relations soured further recently after Abe paid respects late last year at a war shrine that honors Japan's war dead, including 14 Class A war criminals. Abe was the first Japanese prime minister to visit the shrine in more than seven years.
South Korea and China, which suffered from Japan's aggression in the early 20th century, have long resented visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine by Japanese leaders, and the latest visit was considered a flagrant insult to Japan's closest neighbors.
Murayama said South Korea and Japan should face up to history to improve ties.
"If we are going to resolve tensions, we should first repent for the past and establish future-oriented relations," he said. He also called on politicians from both sides to honor the spirit of a 1998 joint statement for reconciliation and cooperation and refrain from acts and words that make the situation worse. (Yonhap)