Japan comes under fire at U.N. Security Council over history issues

China, South Korea and North Korea on Wednesday criticized Japan at the U.N. Security Council for its handling of history, slamming Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's recent visit to a war-linked shrine and the country's handling of the issue of wartime sex slaves.

"The Japanese leaders should recognize and reflect on the history of aggression and redress their mistakes by actions so as to gain the trust of the international community including its neighboring states," China's Ambassador to the United Nations Liu Jieyi said.

He called Abe's Dec. 26 visit to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, where Class A World War II war criminals are honored along with war dead, an attempt to "reverse the verdict on the war and defend war criminals."

During the session on "War, its lessons and the search for permanent peace" at the global body's highest forum, South Korean Ambassador Oh Joon echoed similar sentiments, saying Japan must address its past if it is to fulfill Abe's pledge that the country will make a "proactive contribution to peace" in foreign affairs.

Japan should "refrain from provoking its neighbors with its denial of history," he said, citing the issue of "comfort women," a euphemism in Japan for women recruited in Asian countries to provide sex for Japanese soldiers before and during World War II.

"The Japanese government has yet to take the governmental responsibility in addressing the comfort women issue" despite Japan's pledge at the last General Assembly session to help victims of sexual violence in conflict zones, he said, noting that only 55 former South Korean comfort women are still alive.

Oh also took aim at Japanese school textbooks that he said will pass on "distorted historical views."

Japan's Deputy Ambassador Kazuyoshi Umemoto disputed China and South Korea's claims, saying Japan is pursuing the "path of a peaceful country."

"The government of Japan, squarely facing these historical facts, has expressed its feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology," Umemoto said, noting that in atonement it established a fund in the 1990s for former comfort women, known as the Asian Women's Fund.

North Korean envoy Ri Tong Il also slammed Japan for its stance on historical issues, called Abe's Yasukuni visit "a totally anachronistic crime."

South Korean envoy Oh also contrasted Germany's handling of its Nazi past with that of Japan as other diplomats lauded Germany's reconciliation its former wartime foes.

"France and Germany achieved what no one could have hoped or even thought of in 1918 or 1945. They reconciled," French Ambassador Gerard Araud said. "The two peoples do not consider themselves as hereditary enemies anymore, they do not fear each other anymore, they do not have hatred for each other anymore."

Speaking to Kyodo News, British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant pointed to the reconciliation between Germany and France as a positive example of reconciling with the past.

"It was an interesting counterpoint from the French ambassador and to the Chinese and the Korean (ambassadors)," he said.