South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Friday he would "embrace" Japan if it shifts to dialogue to end diplomatic and trade rifts between the two sides, again extending an olive branch to Tokyo.
"I'm ready to embrace and cooperate with Japan when it returns to the table for dialogue and cooperation, whenever that may be," he said in a written interview with the Bangkok Post.
He's scheduled to visit Thailand next week in a Southeast Asian swing that will also take him to Myanmar and Laos.
Moon voiced hope that Seoul and Tokyo will fulfill their responsibility "so that future generations in East Asia will be able to experience prosperity achieved through cooperation."
The message shows that his administration leaves the door open for talking with the neighboring country even after its decision last week to terminate a bilateral pact on sharing military intelligence, known as the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA).
The measure came after Japan snubbed the president's overtures in his Aug. 15 Liberation Day speech. He said South Korea will "gladly join hands" if Japan chooses dialogue and cooperation.
However, Tokyo pressed ahead with the removal of Seoul from the "whitelist" of trusted trade partners in terms of handling strategic materials, a step that went into effect on Wednesday.
Presiding over a tentative Cabinet meeting Thursday on next year's state budget proposal, Moon hit out at Japan. He urged Japan to be "honest" regarding its "economic retaliation" over an issue related to its brutal colonization of Korea from 1910-45. He demanded that Tokyo "look squarely at the past."
In the interview with the Thai newspaper, however, Moon reaffirmed that he's placing a top priority on resolving the standoffs via diplomacy.
"The Korean Government intends to resolve the issue diplomatically through dialogue," he said. "It makes no sense to hurt each other's economy because of issues that lie outside of the economic realm. A vicious cycle of response and counterresponse is not desirable."
He also requested that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) "work together to steer Japan to the path of dialogue and diplomatic consultation."
Asked about his position on inviting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to the South Korea-ASEAN special summit and the South Korea-Mekong summit to be held in Busan in November, Moon said he hopes for it.
"It would be a very meaningful occasion for peace on the Korean Peninsula and in East Asia, if Chairman Kim is given the chance to join the gathering with ten leaders from ASEAN countries," he said.
He attached a precondition, saying the decision on whether to invite Kim should be made in consideration of progress being made in the peace process on the Korean Peninsula, including Washington-Pyongyang dialogue.
While Kim has made clear his commitment to complete denuclearization for economic development of his nation, Moon added, "What matters most is for North Korea to actually put denuclearization into concrete action."
He said, "I hope that ASEAN will play a big role in helping North Korea abandon its nuclear programs and stand together with all of us through economic cooperation."
He noted that ASEAN has served as an important communication channel between the North and the international community.
In 2000, North Korea joined the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) under Thailand's active auspices, which remains the only regional security consultative forum with the communist nation as an official member.
Two historic summits between North Korea and the U.S. took place in Singapore and Vietnam, respectively, which demonstrates the "immensely constructive role" that ASEAN is playing in the Korea peace process, according to Moon.
He said South Korea is interested in helping develop the Mekong River in that the river, called Indochina's lifeline, will become a driving force behind the region's development.
"We also believe that Indochina's development is closely linked to Korea's own development, he said. "I hope we will be able to help the residents of the Mekong region achieve sustainable development in the area by sharing and safely and effectively utilizing their water resources."
The issue, he said, will be discussed in the South Korea-Mekong summit to open on Nov. 27 involving five ASEAN countries located around the river -- Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand.
It will be held right after a two-day South Korea-ASEAN summit to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of dialogue partnership.
On Seoul-Bangkok relations, he stressed that the Southeast Asian country is a "true friend" of South Koreans.
Thailand was among the first countries to offer help during and after the 1950-53 Korean War.
"The Korean people will never forget the noble dedication and sacrifice of the Thai Korean War veterans and remain grateful to this day," Moon said. "I regard relations with Thailand as very important, and I want to see our cooperative relationship make further strides." (Yonhap)