SEOUL – South Korea decided ahead of its president’s 1990 Japan visit to call for a stronger apology from then Emperor Akihito than given by his predecessor for the 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean Peninsula, according to diplomatic records declassified in Seoul on Monday.
South Korea also planned for then President Roh Tae-woo to invite the former emperor, father of reigning monarch Emperor Naruhito, to visit on that occasion if it was satisfied with his remarks, the records also showed.
During a banquet hosted at the Imperial Palace for Roh in May 1990, Emperor Akihito said he could not help but feel “the deepest regret.” Apparently satisfied with his remarks, the South Korean president invited the emperor to visit South Korea.
No Japanese emperor has yet to visit South Korea, however, as issues stemming from colonial rule have continued to badly strain bilateral ties.
The declassified records were the South Korean Foreign Ministry’s “negotiating guidelines” created in late April 1990 ahead of Roh’s Japan visit.
Six years earlier, during a banquet hosted for visiting South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan in 1984, Emperor Hirohito — Emperor Akihito’s father, who is posthumously known as Emperor Showa — said, “It is indeed regrettable that there was an unfortunate past between us for a period in this century and I believe that it should not be repeated again.”
The guidelines said that because his remarks had left it unclear for whom the apology was intended and what it was about, it would not meet the expectations of the South Korean people if the “same level” of apology were to come from Emperor Akihito during Roh’s visit.
Describing South Korea as the “country that suffered the most” from Japanese colonization, the guidelines called for an expression from the reigning emperor that would go further than before.
No records have yet been disclosed about subsequent negotiations between the two countries. But at the banquet for Roh on May 24, 1990, Emperor Akihito said, “I think of the sufferings your people underwent during this unfortunate period, which were caused by my country, and cannot but feel the deepest regret.”
When Roh delivered parting words to the emperor and Empress Michiko two days later, the president invited him to visit South Korea.
According to South Korean diplomatic records declassified last year, the Japanese foreign minister told his South Korean counterpart in April 1989 that Tokyo hoped to make South Korea the first overseas destination visited by Emperor Akihito, who had just ascended to the throne.
The Japanese move reflected Tokyo’s eagerness to settle historical issues through the imperial visit during a period of relative calm in bilateral ties.
But the visit never materialized as bilateral relations soon worsened over issues related to Japan’s wartime past, including the issue of Korean women who suffered under Japan’s military brothel system before and during World War II.
Emperor Akihito’s first overseas visit during his reign was to Thailand in 1991. He abdicated in April 2019, the first Japanese monarch to do so in about 200 years.
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