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By Hyonhee Shin
SEOUL, Aug 15 (Reuters) – South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday that Japan should look back upon its imperialist past but Seoul will “gladly join hands” if Tokyo chooses dialogue, in a carefully choreographed message amid an escalating history and trade row.
In his Liberation Day address marking Korea’s independence from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule, Moon refrained from deriding Japan but laid out ambitious goals for inter-Korean relations, including an unprecedented call for unification by 2045.
Moon warned the global free trade order may suffer if a country “weaponises” a sector where it has an upper edge, referring to curbs Japan has imposed on exports of some high-tech materials to South Korea.
Seoul calls the move as retaliation over a feud about wartime forced labour, while Tokyo cited unspecified security reasons.
The dispute, triggered after a South Korean court ordered Japanese firms last year to compensate some of their former labourers, has brought their ties to their lowest ebb in more than half a century.
Japan sees the issue was settled by a 1965 treaty normalising bilateral ties.
But Moon said the two neighbours can overcome the past and move toward the future if Japan “contemplates a past that brought misfortune to its neighbouring countries”.
“Better late than never: if Japan chooses the path of dialogue and cooperation, we will gladly join hands,” Moon said.
Moon also painted a brighter outlook for the two Koreas, vowing efforts for a successful joint hosting of the 2032 Olympics and an eventual unification by 2045.
Such goals have long been considered distant, but come at a particularly sensitive time amid the North’s ongoing series of missile tests, stalled nuclear talks with the United States and virtually severed inter-Korean communications.
“In spite of a series of worrying actions taken by North Korea recently, the momentum for dialogue remains unshaken,” Moon said.
“I pledge to solidify the foundation so that we can … stand tall in the world as one Korea by achieving peace and unification by 2045, which will mark the 100th anniversary of liberation.”
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Michael Perry)