US ambassador speaks out on South Korea-Japan rift

A woman prays at the Yasukuni Shrine main hall, or Haiden, after passing through the third Torii gate the morning of Oct. 16, 2012.

SEOUL — The U.S. ambassador to South Korea is speaking out — tactfully and diplomatically, of course — about the growing rift over historical disputes between the two most important American allies in the Asia-Pacific region: Seoul and Tokyo.

In an interview with The Korea Times published Friday, Ambassador Sung Kim addressed the U.S. government’s reaction to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s December visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, a memorial honoring the nation’s war dead, including war criminals. His visit evoked anger in South Korea and China, which suffered under imperial Japanese rule, as well as concern about the perceived increase in nationalism under Abe’s right-wing government.

The U.S. was unusually vocal in expressing its disappointment with longtime ally Japan after the Yasukuni visit.

“It’s not often that we, the U.S. government, express our disappointment openly and publicly about our close ally,” Kim told The Korea Times.

“We did then because we felt very strongly about what had happened,” he said. “We recognize the pain and anger here in Korea and understand that there are deep painful issues from the past. We hope that those issues get addressed satisfactorily.”

Issues such as the dispute in ownership over the Dokdo/Takeshima islets, portrayals of history in textbooks and Japan’s use of sex slaves during its colonization of the Korean peninsula continue to plague the relationship between the two allies.

The U.S. is perceived by many in South Korea as showing favoritism toward Japan, though Kim disputed “observations that Washington vacillates between its two allies,” the paper reported.

Kim, who emigrated to the U.S. as a child, added that President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to South Korea in April shows the value the administration places on the alliance between the two countries.

“I don’t think he has visited any other foreign capital that many times,” Kim said.

Twitter: @Rowland_Stripes

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