The merry-go-round of historical issues continue between Japan, South Korea, and China over the memory of Korean independence activist Ahn Jung-geun – hailed by both Korean nations, and more recently China, as a hero but vilified by Japan. On Tuesday, South Korea rebuked Japan’s chief government spokesman Yoshihide Suga for branding their anti-Japanese independence hero as a “criminal,” amid efforts by Seoul to have a statue of Ahn erected in China.
“It’s deeply regrettable to use the term ‘criminal’ in referring to national hero Ahn Jung-geun, who sacrificed his life for national independence and peace in the Orient,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai Young said in front of a press conference. According to him, the use of such a term by Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga “can never be used if Japan thought about what Hirobumi Ito did during Japan’s imperialistic days and what Japan did to its neighboring countries.” Ito was a four-time prime minister of Japan and the first resident general of Korea, who was assassinated by Ahn at Harbin in northeastern China in 1909. During that time, Korea was a Japanese protectorate and was annexed by Japan in the following year, continuing its rule until 1945. Cho called on Japanese political leaders to conduct “humble reflection on the past history of aggression and try to better understand the sentiments of the people from the countries that suffered aggression.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Suga had criticized the proposed building of a monument to the memory of Ahn in China, where the Korean independence activist is also regarded as a hero. Suga further said that the move “is not good for Japan-South Korea relations.” The plan for the monument was revealed when South Korean President Park Geun-hye met with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi on Monday in Seoul. Park had expressed appreciation for China’s cooperation with the plan, according to the South Korean presidential office.