South Korea's Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn said Wednesday the country will take strong actions against any provocations made by North Korea and seek tougher sanctions on Pyongyang with the United Nations.
"We will strongly punish any provocations and threats from North Korea based on the solid Seoul-Washington alliance," Hwang said during a speech marking the 98th anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement. "We will make North Korea change its erroneous cognition by slapping stronger sanctions and pressure on it, including the United Nations Security Council resolution."
The event, which took place in 1919, is widely considered to have paved the way for Korea's independence from Japanese colonial rule, which lasted from 1910-45. Hwang delivered the commemorative speech this year as President Park Geun-hye was impeached by the parliament in December over a corruption scandal.
Hwang said Seoul will make North Korea realize that its nuke weapons are useless by improving defense capabilities and deploying the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.
"The world is shocked about (North Korea's) terror attack in a third country's international airport by using chemical weapons banned by international law," the acting president said.
Hwang said South Korea has been seeking to establish grounds for peace and unification on the Korean Peninsula by building trust.
"But North Korea has been ignoring such aspects, and has been destroying the livelihoods of its people and violating human rights. It has been only focusing on developing nuclear capabilities, staging nuclear tests and launching ballistic missiles," the acting president said.
"The latest killing of Kim Jong-nam shows the inhumane nature and true face of the North Korea regime," he added.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's half brother Kim Jong-nam was killed in Malaysia in February. The eldest son of late former leader Kim Jong-il died on Feb. 13 in Kuala Lumpur after apparently being poisoned with VX nerve agent at a busy airport.
The acting president said the government will join ties with the international community to punish perpetrators behind the violation of human rights in North Korea.
It marks the first time for Hwang to directly comment on North Korea's human rights issue in a formal speech.
Hwang also expressed hope of overcoming the tension between Seoul and Tokyo over historical issues.
"(South Korea and Japan) will continue to expand cooperation in business, cultural and human resources. (They) will also bolster ties for the peace and prosperity of Northeast Asia, and cope with North Korea's nuke and missile provocations," Hwang said. "But Japan should also face history as it is, and show sincere and consistent gestures on educating its future generations and repenting for its wrongdoings."
The acting president said the two countries should respect and exercise the agreement reached earlier on Tokyo's enslavement of Korean women.
South Korea and Japan reached a deal in December 2015, where Tokyo agreed to provide 1 billion yen (US$8.91 million) for the creation of a foundation aimed at supporting the sexual slavery victims, euphemistically called comfort women during its colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
The agreement, however, has been criticized by some here, who claim the deal was reached without earning enough consent from victims.
Hwang also called for the public's unity apparently amid the deepening tension surrounding the impeachment of the president.
"Due to a series of events, the discord in society is escalating. In some cases, people are expressing jealousies and animosities toward each other," Hwang said. "It is now time to respect diversity based on the constitutional spirits and values, and seek harmony and balance."
The acting president recently received criticism from the opposition bloc for rejecting the request to extend the mandate of the independent counsel looking into the corruption scandal of Park. (Yonhap)