President Park Geun-hye on Saturday made a moderate response to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's statement Friday to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, signaling her intention to enhance relations with Tokyo.
In her Liberation Day speech, she said the much-anticipated statement "did not quite live up to Koreans' expectations." But she noted that it was "high time" for the two neighbours to move forward to a new future "guided by a correct view of history."
"We sincerely hope that Japan will come forward and forge shared peace in Northeast Asia, as an open-hearted neighbour," she told a gathering of some 3,000 attendees including bereaved families of the nation's independence fighters, political leaders and foreign dignitaries.
"We look to the Japanese government to match with consistent and sincere actions its declaration that the view of history articulated by its previous cabinets will be upheld, and thereby win the trust of its neighbours and the international community."
Her tone reflected a subtle change from her previous major public speeches regarding Tokyo's views of history. In the past, she used to press Tokyo to "squarely face history" and warn that its lack of atonement for wartime atrocities would lead to its diplomatic isolation.
Touching on the issue of Korean victims who were forced into sexual servitude by Japan during World War II, Park urged the Japanese government to resolve the issue in a "speedy and proper way." The number of surviving Korean victims, whose average age is 89, stands at only 47 -- the reason why Seoul has stressed the urgency of the wartime human rights issue.
"History cannot be hidden, but rather lives on through the testimony of surviving witnesses," she said.
Abe's statement on Friday has been discounted by South Koreans as insincere and vaguely worded as he used the past tense while referring to the four key expressions they wanted to see in his speech: colonial rule, aggression, apology and remorse.
The day after the statement was issued, Seoul's Foreign Ministry issued a thinly-veiled criticism of Abe, saying that his statement laid bare the kind of historical views the Japanese government holds on its past colonial rule and aggression.
Park also used her speech to call on Pyongyang to come out for a dialogue on its denuclearization and stop its provocative acts. She urged the North to work together to address the humanitarian issue of the families separated across the border, and proposed exchanges of the lists of separated family members.
"The government will respond firmly to any and all North Korean provocations that jeopardize the safety and security of our people," she said.
"North Korea must break free of the delusion that it will sustain its system through provocative acts and belligerence. Provocations and belligerence bring nothing but isolation and ruin."