South Korean President Park Geun-hye expressed relief on Saturday over remarks by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that his government would adhere to apologies for wartime behavior made by past cabinets, in 1993 and 1995.
Ties with South Korea and China, already strained after Abe's visit last December to the Yasukuni shrine, have deteriorated further, with Japanese nationalist politicians urging Abe's cabinet to rescind the apologies.
The apologies were issued by then chief cabinet secretary Yohei Kono in 1993 and then premier Tomiichi Murayama in 1995.
"It is a relief that Prime Minister Abe announced his government will uphold the Murayama statement and the Kono statement," President Park was quoted as saying by Blue House spokesman Min Kyung-wook.
"President Park also expressed hopes that this becomes an opportunity in which we can alleviate the pain of the 'comfort women' victims and solidify the bilateral relationship of South Korea and Japan as well as that of Northeast Asia," Min added at a briefing on Saturday.
The first apology recognized the involvement of Japanese authorities in coercing women to work in military brothels and the next concerned suffering caused by the war and the colonial rule imposed on neighbors, including South Korea and China.
Amid mounting tension with neighbors and growing pressure by the United States, Abe told a parliamentary panel on Friday that his cabinet had no intention of reviewing the statements made by his predecessors.
Under pressure to improve ties with Seoul ahead of an April visit by U.S. President Barack Obama, Tokyo has been trying to arrange a meeting of Abe, Park and Obama on the sidelines of a global nuclear-security summit in the Netherlands at the end of March.