TOKYO -- Japan's Emperor Akihito apologized to South Korean President Roh Tae Woo Thursday in the hopes of putting aside lingering pain from Japan's 35-year colonization of Korea and moving the Far East neighbors into an era of political and economic cooperation.
Akihito told Roh on the first day of a three-day visit that the sufferings of the Koreans during the colonization from 1910 to 1945 were 'brought about by my country and I cannot but feel the deepest regret.'
Akihito's father, Emperor Hirohito, never admitted Japan was at fault for the harsh treatment of Koreans and his reluctance to apologize fully remained a barrier to warm relations between the two nations.
During the colonization, the Japanese killed thousands of Korean resisters, forced Koreans to work in slave-like conditions, speak only Japanese and adopt Japanese names.
In the two weeks prior to Roh's trip, the question of how far Akihito would go in his apology, which had to be approved by the Cabinet, was the focus of a diplomatic battle between Seoul and Tokyo.
Akihito's statement goes farther than previous statements but may not completely satisfy the Koreans.
In response to Akihito's apology, Roh said South Koreans should put past problems behind them and build friendly relations.
Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu also apologized to Roh for the past.
'Japanese actions inflicted unbearable suffering and sorrow on the people of the Korean Peninsula,' Kaifu said.
To further heal the old wounds, Kaifu announced Japan was considering giving $26 million to aid Korean victims of the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who returned to Korea after the war.
Kaifu also announced Japan will help Koreans living on the island of Sakhalin, now part of the Soviet Union, return to Korea. The Koreans in Sakhalin are laborers or their descendants who were taken to the island to work for the Japanese during World War II.
Hirohito, who died of cancer in 1989, said during the visit of South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan in 1984, 'It is indeed regrettable that there has been an unfortunate past between us for a period in this century and I believe that it should not be repeated.'
Akihito repeated his fathers words and then added, 'When I think of the sufferings your people underwent during this unfortunate period, which was brought about by my country, I cannot but feel the deepest regret.'
Roh said, 'As we enter the last decade of the 20th century, both countries must work to usher in an era of genuine friendship and cooperation founded on mutual respect and understanding.'
'Friendly and cooperative relations between (South) Korea and Japan are essential not only to the development and prosperity of both nations but also a better tomorrow for Northeast Asia at large.'
The second half of Roh's visit is to be devoted to talks on promoting economic, scientific and technological cooperation.
'In the midst of global upheavals, including the rapid move toward a unified Germany and further toward a united Europe, (South) Korea and Japan must continuously cooperate to promote the peace and prosperity of Northeast Asia,' Roh said. 'Through my visit to Japan, I will do my level best to forge future-oriented bilateral ties.'
Roh arrived under the tightest security in Japan since Hirohito's funeral. More than 20,000 police blanketed central Tokyo, where private traffic was banned to let Roh's huge motorcade pass smoothly between appointments.