South Korean PM hails ‘love of humanity’ during visit to Japan

South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon (C) arrives at the Imperial Palace to attend the proclamation ceremony for Emperor Naruhito of Japan in Tokyo, Japan on Tuesday. Photo by Koji Sashara / EPA-EFE

October 22 (UPI) – South Korean PM called for improved Seoul-Tokyo relations as he paid tribute at a memorial in Japan for a South Korean student who died in 2001 rescuing a Japanese man who fell from a Tokyo pier .

Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon visited the site of the Shin-Okubo subway station in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo on Tuesday afternoon. Lee was in Japan to attend the enthronement of new Emperor Naruhito, South Korean news service Newsis reported.

Lee’s visit to the memorial to Lee Su-hyun, who died saving a drunken Japanese man, comes at a time of tensions over history and trade between the two countries.

Lee said on Tuesday that Korea and Japan have a history of 1,500 years, but an “unhappy” history of only 50 years. Lee was quoting former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who was credited with improving Korea-Japan relations with his Japanese counterpart former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, according to South Korean news service News 1.

Lee Su-hyun was a student at Akamonkai Language School in Japan at the time of his death. He was a language exchange student at Korea University when he died on January 26, 2001.

His death has become the symbol of a lasting friendship between the two countries. In 2013, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe praised Lee Su-hyun and wished the student’s spirit of selflessness and courage to be passed on to future generations.

On Tuesday, the South Korean Prime Minister joined hands in prayer and meditation in memory of Lee Su-hyun. The South Korean official spoke of the sacrifice of Shiro Sekine, a Japanese photographer who also died saving the man’s life.

“Two righteous people practiced a love for humanity that transcends borders,” Lee said. “I am here to commemorate this devotion.”

Lee Nak-yon also said he would have come to the memorial “even if Korea-Japan relations were good.”

Japanese networks, including NHK, TBS and Kyodo, covered his visit to the memorial.

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