TOKYO (AP) — Asia paused on Sunday to remember Japan’s surrender to the allied forces, ending World War II 65 years ago, as the Japanese prime minister apologized for wreaking suffering on the region and the South Korean president said Tokyo’s remorse was a step in the right direction.
From Nanjing, China, the site of a 1937 massacre by Japanese troops, to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, which has drawn outrage from Asia for honoring Class A war criminals, people prayed for the millions who died in war and expressed hopes for peace.
The reckoning with history has taken special meaning this year as it comes amid a global effort to realize a world without nuclear weapons, a resolve backed by President Obama. But there were reminders of lingering tensions.
In Seoul, President Lee Myung-bak, dressed in traditional robes, led a ceremony celebrating the liberation of the Korean peninsula from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule with the Aug. 15 surrender.
He also urged North Korea to abandon military provocations and make a “courageous change” toward peace. Relations with North Korea have nose-dived after the March sinking of a South Korean warship and Pyongyang’s firing last week of a barrage of artillery into South Korean waters.
In Tokyo, at a ceremony for the war dead, Prime Minister Naoto Kan reiterated his apology to South Korea for wartime atrocities and this time offered his regret to all of Asia.
Last week, Mr. Kan offered “deep remorse” in an apology issued ahead of the 100th anniversary of the Japanese annexation of the Korean peninsula on Aug. 29, 1910.
“We feel a deep regret, and we offer our sincere feelings of condolence to those who suffered and their families,” Mr. Kan said.
Mr. Lee said that history should not be forgotten but that Mr. Kan’s apology last week marked progress.
“I have taken note of Japan’s effort, which represents one step forward,” Mr. Lee said.
“However, there still remain issues that have to be resolved,” he said, without elaborating. “The two countries are called upon to take concrete measures to forge a new relationship for another 100 years.”
Many older Koreans still harbor resentment against Japan over the colonization. Hundreds of thousands of Koreans were forced to fight as front-line soldiers, work in slave-labor conditions or serve as prostitutes called “comfort women” in brothels operated by the military.
Later Sunday, about 50 women rallied in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, chanting slogans and demanding compensation for former comfort women and other Korean victims of colonial rule.
Reflecting a common sentiment among Koreans, activist Lee Kang-sil criticized Japan’s apology as “lacking in action.”