S. Korea raps Abe's remarks on whether Japan invaded neighbors

South Korea voiced disappointment Thursday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's remarks that whether Japan invaded neighboring countries in the past should be left to historians to judge.

"We find it deeply regrettable and disappointing the highest leader of the Japanese government holds such an easygoing perception of history," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The statement was in response to remarks made by Abe on Wednesday during a debate with other party leaders a day before official campaigning commences for the July 21 House of Councillors election.

During the debate organized by the Japan National Press Club, Abe said he is not in a position to define invasion or aggression as doing so could cause political and diplomatic problems.

"That judgment should be left to historians," he said.

The South Korean statement said Abe's remarks make clear his attempt to "intentionally evade responsibility" for Japan's past actions.

It pointed out the Japanese government has already admitted that its 1910-1945 colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula and aggression toward other neighboring countries caused serious damage and sufferings.

"Our government strongly urges Japanese politicians to look squarely into the past history and to do its best in building trust with neighboring countries," the statement said.

Bilateral relations have been strained over controversial remarks by Japanese politicians about wartime history, as well as by a territorial dispute over islets controlled by Seoul and claimed by Tokyo.