SEOUL, March 1 (UPI) — South Korean President Moon Jae-in made overtures toward an improved relationship with Japan on Monday, calling for closer cooperation and a forward-looking approach in a speech commemorating the start of Korea’s independence movement against Japanese colonizers over a century ago.
Calling Japan’s 1910-1945 occupation of Korea an “unfortunate chapter,” Moon said that the neighboring countries should separate historical issues from their future relationship.
“[W]e must not let the past hold us back,” Moon said in an address delivered at a ceremony in Seoul’s Tapgol Park for the March 1 Independence Movement. “We have to concentrate more energy on future-oriented development while resolving issues of the past separately.”
Ties between Seoul and Tokyo have long been complicated, but the neighbors have seen diplomatic relations go south in recent years over issues surrounding Japan’s wartime abuses.
The contentious topic of reparations for wartime sexual slavery came to the foreground in January after a Seoul court ordered Japan to pay around $90,000 each to a group of 12 former so-called comfort women.
South Korea’s Supreme Court also ruled in 2018 that two Japanese companies must pay compensation to wartime victims of forced labor, a ruling that sparked a trade war and led to a widespread boycott of Japanese products in South Korea.
Seoul later threatened to withdraw from a military intelligence sharing agreement with Tokyo before deciding to remain in the pact in 2019 under pressure from Washington.
“The Korean Government will always pursue wise solutions based on a victim-centered approach,” Moon said. “However, efforts for Korea-Japan cooperation and forward-looking development will not stop either.”
The president said that cooperation between Japan and South Korea would “facilitate stability and common prosperity in Northeast Asia,” as well as benefit the trilateral partnership with the United States.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s adminitration has signaled that it wants a closer trilateral relationship, particularly in dealing with the threat of a nuclear-armed North Korea.
Representatives from the three countries held a videoconference meeting last month, and Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have stressed the issue on calls with their counterparts in Japan and South Korea.
Moon pointed to the upcoming Tokyo Summer Olympics, scheduled to begin in July, as “an opportunity for dialogue” with not only the United States and Japan, but North Korea, as well.
Communications between Seoul and Pyongyang have frozen over after a period of detente in 2018 and 2019.
Monday’s event commemorated the March 1 Movement, which began in 1919 with a Declaration of Independence against Japanese colonial occupiers. As the movement swelled, some 2 million Koreans took part in demonstrations, with thousands arrested and killed by the Japanese.
On Friday, the city of Seoul officially opened the home of Albert Wilder Taylor, a UPI and Associated Press correspondent who broke the news of the March 1 Movement worldwide, as a historic site.
“The Korean Government is always ready to sit down and have talks with the Japanese Government,” Moon said. “I am confident that if we put our heads together in the spirit of trying to understand each other’s perspectives, we will also be able to wisely resolve issues of the past.”