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Yoon stresses ‘partnership’ with Japan on Liberation Day

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President Yoon Suk Yeol, right, enters with 100-year-old independence fighter Oh Seong-gyu, pushed in a wheelchair by a military officer, for the 78th Liberation Day ceremony at a Ewha Womans University auditorium in Seodaemun District, central Seoul on Tuesday. [PRESIDENTIAL OFFICE]
President Yoon Suk Yeol, right, enters with 100-year-old independence fighter Oh Seong-gyu, pushed in a wheelchair by a military officer, for the 78th Liberation Day ceremony at a Ewha Womans University auditorium in Seodaemun District, central Seoul on Tuesday. [PRESIDENTIAL OFFICE]

President Yoon Suk Yeol called Korea and Japan “partners” who share similar values and interests and stressed the importance of trilateral security cooperation with the United States in his Liberation Day address Tuesday.

“Korea and Japan are now partners who share universal values and pursue common interests,” Yoon said. “As partners that cooperate on security and the economy, Korea and Japan will be able to jointly contribute to peace and prosperity across the globe while collaborating and exchanging in a future-oriented manner.”

Some 2,000 people attended the 78th Liberation Day ceremony, marking Korea’s independence from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule on Aug. 15, 1945, held at an Ewha Womans University auditorium in Seodaemun District, central Seoul.

Yoon noted the significance of the growing trilateral security cooperation between South Korea, Japan and the United States on the Korean Peninsula and in the region.

“In order to fundamentally block North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, the Republic of Korea, the United States and Japan must closely cooperate on reconnaissance assets and share North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles data in real-time,” Yoon said.

He noted that the seven rear bases provided to the United Nations Command (UNC) by Japan “serve as the greatest deterrent which keeps the North from invading the South.”

The seven rear bases across Japan include Yokota Air Base, Yokosuka Naval Base and Kadena Air Base.

“A renewed North Korean invasion will trigger an automatic and immediate intervention and retaliation by the UNC, and the UNC-rear in Japan is sufficiently equipped with necessary land, sea and air capabilities,” Yoon added.

He said the trilateral summit with U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to be held at Camp David in Maryland on Friday “will set a new milestone in trilateral cooperation contributing to peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and in the Indo-Pacific region.”

Yoon added that the security of the Korean Peninsula and the Indo-Pacific region is “deeply linked to the security in the Atlantic and Europe,” calling for cooperation with NATO.

Yoon also said South Korea will “steadfastly” implement the so-called “audacious initiative,” referring to his administration’s policy to help North Korea’s economy in step with denuclearization efforts, “to build peace by overwhelming force.”

He said his government “will also work together with the international community to make the North Korean regime stop advancing its nuclear and missile programs and embark on a path to dialogue and cooperation, which will lead to better livelihoods of its people.”

He noted that Korea’s independence movement “was never an attempt to establish a communist totalitarian state where freedom and human rights are ignored,” in reference to Pyongyang.

Yoon said that the “stark differences between the Republic of Korea that opted for and pursued freedom and democracy and North Korea that chose communist totalitarianism could not be any clearer,” calling on South Korea to “never succumb” to such communist forces and “not be deceived by those who follow and serve them.”

Yoon said that South Korea will “conduct a responsible and contributive diplomacy in all regions around the world” to “contribute to freedom, peace and prosperity globally.”

He also called for sustainable economic growth and to “stamp out illegal activities by special-interest cartels” and to get rid of so-called “killer” regulations that impede investment.

Yoon also urged for “teachers’ authority to be respected,” calling for “discipline in our classrooms.”

Yoon and first lady Kim Keon-hee entered the auditorium ahead of the ceremony with independence fighters Oh Seong-gyu and Kim Young-gwan.

Oh, 100, the last surviving Korean independence fighter living in Japan, arrived in Seoul on Sunday to spend his remaining days in his home country. He entered in a wheelchair pushed by a military officer, while 98-year-old patriot Kim walked in on his own.

Kim Gi-hyeon, left, head of the People Power Party (PPP), and Lee Jae-myung, chief of the Democratic Party (DP), shake hands at a ceremony to mark Liberation Day at a Ewha Womans University auditorium in central Seoul Tuesday. [YONHAP]
Kim Gi-hyeon, left, head of the People Power Party (PPP), and Lee Jae-myung, chief of the Democratic Party (DP), shake hands at a ceremony to mark Liberation Day at a Ewha Womans University auditorium in central Seoul Tuesday. [YONHAP]

Kim Gi-hyeon, chairman of the People Power Party (PPP), and Lee Jae-myung, chief of the Democratic Party (DP), were seated next to each other at the ceremony, also attended by government officials, patriots and their families.

The rival parties had conflicting reactions to the address, which liberal and moderate politicians criticized for leaving out any mention of Korea’s history of colonial rule with Japan.

Some liberal DP lawmakers criticized Yoon’s remark in the address that “forces of communist totalitarianism have always disguised themselves as democracy activists, human rights advocates or progressive activists while engaging in despicable and unethical tactics and false propaganda.”

Regarding Yoon’s Liberation Day address, Rep. Kwon Chil-seung, a DP spokesman, called it “no different from a monologue by a far-right YouTuber.”

Kwon said in a statement that the DP is “stunned” by Yoon’s speech and that he had “asked for cooperation without conditions from Japan, which has shown no sincere apology and reflection on its past history.”

The PPP in turn praised Yoon’s address as “an expression of the will to sternly respond to the anti-state forces threatening liberal democracy.”

Rep. Kang Min-kuk, a PPP spokesman, said, “It is our duty to resolutely reject all forces that threaten a free South Korea, which was defended with the blood and sweat of our ancestors.”

On Tuesday, the South Korean government expressed regret that Japanese politicians paid visits and sent tributes to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which enshrines war criminals and is seen as a glorification of Japan’s past imperialism.

Earlier Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida sent a ritual offering to the shrine.

Kishida didn’t visit the shrine in person, however, as Japan also marked the 78th anniversary of the end of World War II. The shrine honors 1,068 war criminals, 14 of whom were Class A.

A number of Japanese politicians and lawmakers did visit the shrine, including Sanae Takaichi, Japan’s economic security minister, and members of Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party.

Seoul’s Foreign Ministry in a statement expressed “deep disappointment and regret that responsible leaders of the Japanese government and Diet sent offerings or paid visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, which glorifies Japan’s past war of aggression and enshrines war criminals.”

It urged responsible figures in Japan to “look squarely at history and show humble reflection and genuine repentance on the past through action.”

In turn, the United States highlighted the importance of the 70-year-old bilateral alliance ahead of South Korea’s Liberation Day, stressing their “strategic partnership” and “acknowledging the shared values that form the foundation of our strong bond.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated South Korea in a statement on Monday and said, “The United States remains committed to achieving a truly global partnership between our countries, including by expanding people-to-people ties, investing in economic growth, and upholding international peace and stability.”

He recognized the two countries’ many accomplishments and added, “Best wishes to the people of the Republic of Korea for a joyous National Day.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]