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Moon sets different tone in call for mending of ties

By Junichi Toyoura / Yomiuri Shimbun CorrespondentSEOUL — South Korean President Moon Jae-in indicated his willingness to pursue dialogue and cooperation with Japan during his speech Thursday to mark Liberation Day, in an apparent bid to avoid further souring bilateral relations.

During the speech, Moon gave some credit to Japan’s efforts to provide compensation to former comfort women and other affected people.

“We have not dwelt on the past,” he said. “Instead, we continued to engage in security and economic cooperation with Japan. Together with Japan, we have tried to practically assuage the suffering of victims from the Japanese colonial period.”

The tone Moon set Thursday was quite different from the sharp criticism he made in remarks on Aug. 2, when the Japanese government decided at a Cabinet meeting to remove South Korea from a list of countries eligible for preferential treatment to simplify export procedures.

“We will never overlook such circumstances where Japan, the instigator of these wrongs, is turning on us,” the president said.

Moon did not harshly criticize Japan when he met with his senior secretaries on Monday, four days after Japan announced that it had granted approval for the shipment to South Korea of some of the items used to produce semiconductors, the first such authorization since export controls on the materials were tightened in July.

“Our response to Japan’s economic retaliation shouldn’t be emotional,” the president said.

Moon has taken a softer stance apparently in recognition of U.S. President Donald Trump for Tokyo and Seoul to improve their ties.

The South Korean president has also likely concluded that it would be difficult for him to break the deadlock in talks with North Korea — which he regards as one of his most important issues — if continued friction with Japan disrupts cooperation among the three countries toward the North.

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