President Moon Jae-in said Thursday that South Korea will "gladly hold" Japan's hand if the neighboring nation chooses dialogue and cooperation in an escalating trade row stemming from differences over wartime forced labor.
Moon made the remarks in his Liberation Day address commemorating the 1945 end of Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, urging Japan to contemplate its past and vowing to make South Korea an "unshakable nation."
"Better late than never: If Japan chooses the path of dialogue and cooperation, we will gladly join hands," Moon said. "We will strive with Japan to create an East Asia that engages in fair trade and cooperation."
His televised statement represented one of the clearest dialogue overtures toward Tokyo since it launched apparent economic retaliation against Seoul in early July over the wartime forced labor issue.
Moon repeatedly used the words cooperation and prosperity throughout his nearly half-hour address in the national ceremony held at the Independence Hall of Korea, located in Cheonan, 85 kilometers south of Seoul.
The president emphasized that the neighboring countries should overcome the past and move toward the future together.
"We hope that Japan will play a leading role together in facilitating peace and prosperity in East Asia, while it contemplates a past that brought misfortune to its neighboring countries," he said.
He added, however, Japan should first stop using trade as a "weapon."
"Within the international division of labor, if any country weaponizes a sector where it has a comparative advantage, the peaceful free trade order will inevitably suffer damage," he said. "A country that achieved growth first must not kick the ladder away while others are following in its footsteps."
He stressed the need for "equitable" cooperation among regional countries.
"The Asian community will not be led by a single state but will instead become a community where diverse cooperation blossoms among countries on an equal footing," Moon said.
To that end, he said, South Korea will strive to become a "responsible economic powerhouse" that nobody can shake.
"We have yet to become an unshakable nation. That is because we still lack sufficient strength and remain divided," he said.
He again laid out his "peace economy" vision to capitalize on a denuclearized Korea and inter-Korean partnerships.
As North Korea and the United States are seeking to resume working-level negotiations, it will "probably constitute the most critical juncture" in the entire denuclearization and peace-building process, he said, calling for every possible support for its success.
"I pledge to solidify the foundation so that we can successfully host the joint 2032 Seoul-Pyongyang Olympics and stand tall in the world as one Korea by achieving peace and unification by 2045, which will mark the 100th anniversary of liberation," he said. (Yonhap)