South Korea's Moon signals talks with Japan

On the anniversary of Japan’s World War Two surrender, Moon offers to "join hands" if Tokyo chooses dialogue

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in

In a speech marking the 74th anniversary of Korea's liberation from Japan's rule from 1910 to 1945, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in on Thursday urged Japan to contemplate its wartime past and offered to engage in talks to repair strained ties, while Japan pledged to never repeat the horrors of war.

“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,” Moon said in a nationally televised address.

"If Japan chooses the path of dialogue and cooperation, we will gladly join hands," he then continued, adding that Seoul is willing to work with Tokyo to secure "fair trade and cooperation" in the region.

Seoul and Tokyo - both of them democracies and market economies - are mired in long-running disputes over Japan's use of forced labour in the first half of the 20th century. Bilateral relations deteriorated after South Korea’s Supreme Court last year ordered Japanese companies to compensate some wartime forced laborers. Tokyo, however, refused, claiming the matter was settled by a 1965 treaty normalising ties. 

Relations further soured after the neighbouring countries engaged in a tit-for-tat trade war, which saw them remove each other from their lists of trusted trading partners this month, raising concerns over global supply chains. That came after Tokyo imposed restrictions on exports crucial to tech giants such as Samsung last month, following a series of South Korean court rulings ordering Japanese firms to pay for wartime labour.

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