Victims of Japan's wartime aggression await its apology from the heart

Choe Young-U calls on Japan to apologise unequivocally for its war atrocities, as it remembers the end of the second world war, so that those who had suffered can move on

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 August, 2015, 1:17pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 August, 2015, 1:29pm

For Koreans of my generation, the year 2015 holds special meaning. I was born in 1941, and the second world war ended four years later. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the war and the liberation of Korea from Japanese colonial rule.

As a global citizen - having lived in Hong Kong for many years and interacting with business leaders from around the world - I have high expectations of Japan. I will be paying close attention to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's forthcoming 70th anniversary statement and his subsequent actions.

Since the war, Japan has become a great world economy and an active member of the global community. Yet, since his inauguration, Abe has stirred controversy with his revisionist views, which remind the victimised countries and the individual survivors that their pain is not yet behind them.

In contrast, Germany took responsibility for its actions as an aggressor in the second world war, and backed up its words with deeds

The Abe cabinet, while publicly stating that it upholds the positions expressed by past cabinets acknowledging the wrongs of history, continues to speak and act in a way that contradicts that commitment. While continuing to use the term "future-oriented", the Abe cabinet is limiting the future by failing to face the past.

That lack of contrition not only hinders bilateral ties between South Korea and Japan, but it also diminishes Japan's standing in the international community.

From my perspective as a member of Korea's older generation, the second world war did not reach a neat conclusion and allow us to turn the page.

I sincerely hope that Abe delivers an unequivocal message that will finally bring the story to an end for all of Asia, lest the controversies continue to cause strife when it is time to deliver our 80th anniversary statements.

I hope to hear a sincere apology from Japan, one that resolves the international community's concerns and sets the stage for good relations with all of Japan's partners and allies throughout the world.

In contrast, Germany took responsibility for its actions as an aggressor in the second world war, and backed up its words with deeds. As a result, it became a mature and healthy nation and is now one of the leading countries in the world.

The prime minister's statement ought to include an unequivocal apology and expression of remorse for Japan's wartime aggression and for the colonisation of Korea and other countries. I especially hope that Japan will deliver a long-overdue apology to the elderly survivors of the sexual slavery by its military. Only if Abe conveys this core message can Koreans and other Asians accept his apology in their hearts and begin to move forward.

Historical truth should not be a matter of nationalism or politics or face-saving, but a matter of integrity; the whole undistorted truth should be handed down to the next generation.

Any statement that falls short of our expectations would be a step backwards in terms of Japan coming to terms with its history. If that were to happen, I am sure that many survivors and victimised countries would prefer no statement at all. A weak statement would sour any future-oriented message, whatever Japan's intentions may be. As an individual who has close ties with Japan, I pray that it will release itself from the past and forge future-oriented relationships with Korea and its other northeast Asian neighbours.

Japan's decision to own its history will have positive repercussions for world history. Even in this globalised world, one in which telecommunications offer ever-greater opportunities to interact across national borders, it is hard to interact without trust.

As a long-term resident of Hong Kong, I would like to close by saying that the peoples of Hong Kong and Korea are profoundly connected; we share much of the same history. I know that the people of Hong Kong are waiting just as eagerly for an apology from Abe.

I hope, therefore, that we will all hear those long-awaited words of remorse and contrition, words that are sure to heal many wounds throughout Asia.

Choe Young-U is president of the Korean Residents' Association of Hong Kong