“It's true that Japan has so far only made perfunctory apologies or self-examinations in the past, and such apologies failed to move the Korean people to a large extent. But I'm sure that Japan will conduct a mature diplomacy regardless.”
Sankei gives a somewhat different Japanese translation that suggests that Mr. Lee would like Japan to do it without being asked, and I have reason to believe that it is more accurate than the Chosunilbo English rendition. My retranslation from Sankei**:
With regard to apologies, self-examination, it is true that Japan has been doing them perfunctorily and because of this could not move the hearts of the Hanguk People. But with a view to a mature relationship between the two countries, I will not seek apologies and self-examination. I think that Japan will conduct a mature diplomacy where Japan can say such things even if there are no demands
It doesn’t look like the Japanese authorities can completely ignore the issue and not expect repercussions. Still, with Yasuo Fukuda as his Japanese counterpart, downplaying the history issues and building on the broad and deep bilateral relationship that exists regardless should work. In another development, Fukuda told Mr. Lee’s emissary, his brother and Deputy Chairman of the South Korean Parliament, that he would do his best to attend the inauguration ceremonies in February. Plans are also underfoot to have Mr. Lee do a stopover in Tokyo on his return from a March trip to Washington.
* It was of course picked up by the Japanese media. Predictably, The Sankei website carries a fairly extensive account of the speech here － it differs on a key point from the Chosunilbo translation; for linguistic reasons, I believe that Sankei’s Japanese translation is more accurate － while Asahi runs this article on the criticism from President Roh’s supporters under the headline 李・次期大統領の「日本に謝罪求めず」発言に批判 韓国 President Lee’s “Won’t See Apology from Japan” Statement Criticized: South Korea”. Apparently, South Korea consists solely of President Roh’s supporters in the minds of the Asahi copy editors.