SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea's president on Monday criticized Japan over historical and territorial disputes during a meeting with visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
Seoul and Tokyo have long bickered over the ownership of tiny islets, a Japanese war shrine and other issues stemming from Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910-1945. Their ties have further soured due to recent nationalistic events and remarks in Japan.
On Monday, President Park Geun-hye brought up the issue of South Koreans' resentment when Hagel visited her during a four-day trip and expressed hopes for improved ties between Seoul and Japan.
"I know Japan is an important country to cooperate with for peace and stability in Northeast Asia ... but the trust has not been established due to the (Japanese) leadership which has repeatedly made regressive remarks" on history and territorial issues, Park said, according to a statement from her office.
Park said many South Koreans are still suffering from the Japanese occupation, such as elderly Korean women who served as wartime sex slaves for Japanese troops during the World War II.
"They've lived with deep (mental) scars but Japan has leveled insults against them rather than offering an apology," Park said. She said Tokyo must show a sincere attitude to address the issue.
Conservative Japanese politicians such as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have acknowledged "comfort women" existed, but deny they were coerced into prostitution, citing a lack of official evidence. Abe's support for revising Japan's pacifist Constitution and raising the profile of its military has also fueled unease in neighboring countries.
Despite their harsh history, South Korea and Japan are important trading partners. Both are U.S. allies and members of now-dormant international disarmament talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program.