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Friday, April 19, 2024

President calls Korea, Japan ‘partners’ at March 1 address

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President Yoon Suk Yeol delivers a speech at a ceremony marking the 105th anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement at the Yu Gwan-sun Memorial Hall in Jung District, central Seoul, on Friday. [YONHAP]
President Yoon Suk Yeol delivers a speech at a ceremony marking the 105th anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement at the Yu Gwan-sun Memorial Hall in Jung District, central Seoul, on Friday. [YONHAP]

President Yoon Suk Yeol called South Korea and Japan “partners” seeking global peace against North Korea’s military threats and said his government would pursue “a unification that brings freedom” to all Koreans, in a speech marking the 105th anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement on Friday.

Speaking at a commemoration ceremony at the Yu Gwan-sun Memorial Hall in Jung District, central Seoul, the president said that the two countries “are working together to overcome the painful past” and share “the values of freedom, human rights and the rule of law” in their “pursuit of common interests for global peace and prosperity.”

The annual Independence Movement holiday marks the outbreak of mass demonstrations across the Japanese-occupied Korean Peninsula on March 1, 1919, shortly after then-U.S. President Woodrow Wilson announced his Fourteen Points outlining principles for lasting peace and self-national determination.

During his speech, Yoon said that Seoul and Tokyo “will be able to usher in a new and brighter future” in their relationship if they “build trust through mutual exchanges and cooperation” and “resolve the difficult challenges” left behind by their history.

The president also expressed hope that the 60th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral relations between South Korea and Japan “will serve as an opportunity to take our bilateral relationship to a higher level, one that is more productive and constructive.”

Yoon praised Seoul and Tokyo for strengthening their cooperation in the face of advancing military threats from Pyongyang, whose “tyranny and human rights abuses” he characterized as the main obstacles to achieving freedom and common prosperity across the peninsula.

According to the president, the independence movement “will be made complete only upon a unification that brings freedom and abundance to everyone.”

The president also called the North “deplorable” for recently labelling South Korea as its “primary foe and invariable principal enemy” and noted that Pyongyang continues to maintain a “totalitarian system” marked by “the worst forms of degradation and poverty” for its people.

“We must move toward a free, unified Korean Peninsula where the people are its rightful owners,” Yoon said as he called on the international community to “pool its strength in a responsible manner” to help accomplish unification.

The president expressed his belief that a “free” and “unified” Korea would “contribute to the peace and prosperity not only in Northeast Asia, but also in the Indo-Pacific region and the rest of the world.”

Yoon also reiterated his earlier pledges to helping North Koreans, promising that Seoul “will continue to provide North Korean defectors with warmhearted support so that they can enjoy freedom and prosperity” alongside South Koreans and that the government’s efforts to improve human rights in the North “will never cease.”

The president also paid tribute to different educational and cultural movements that sought to “empower Koreans” against Japan’s colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula, which began in 1910 and lasted until 1945.

“The blood and sweat of these independence activists enabled our country’s independence and became the foundation of the Republic of Korea,” he said, referring to South Korea by its official name, adding that his administration is “committed to ensuring that the sacrifice and dedication” of such activists “are properly honored and remembered” by future generations of Koreans.

BY MICHAEL LEE [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]