Speed Reads

Japan and Korea

Japanese PM expresses sorrow for Korean colonial victims, but does not directly apologize

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Sunday expressed sympathy for those who suffered under Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, but did not offer the direct apology many South Koreans had wanted.

Traveling to Seoul to meet with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, Kishida said that his "heart ached" for the past suffering of Koreans, adding that he stood by Japan's previous remorseful sentiments. However, he did not comment on the issue any further. 

The meeting between the two marked the first visits between the leaders of the Asian nations in 12 years. Tensions between the countries have been fraught, largely due to "Japan's brutal colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula in the early 20th century," The New York Times reported. 

Even as the leaders resumed shuttle diplomacy — talks conducted by a mediator — many in South Korea were reportedly upset that Kishida did not offer a fuller apology. However, Yoon said he would instead try to focus on the future. 

Yoon added that an apology from Japan was "something that should come naturally from the other side's sincerity," per the Times. "We must abandon the notion that we cannot take a single step ahead for future cooperation until the past history is resolved."

The countries have been at odds with each other over a 2018 Korean court ruling that ordered two Japanese companies to compensate their Korean employees for forced labor that occurred in the 20th century. However, Japan has refused to acknowledge this ruling, and has argued "that all compensation issues were already settled when the two countries normalized ties in 1965," The Associated Press

Despite the continued tensions between the countries, Japan and South Korea represent key alliances for the United States, and President Biden is expected to meet with both Kishida and Yoon later this month.