On the anniversary of Korea's independence movement on Thursday, President Moon Jae-in said the March first 1919 movement and the centennial anniversary of the nation's founding should be the starting point to establish lasting peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula.
During his speech, the president also touched on thorny issues with Japan.
A ceremony was held at Seodaemun Prison Thursday to mark the 99th anniversary of the March First Independence Movement against Japanese colonial rule.
Speaking at the event, Moon said that South Korea has the ability to establish peace on its own.
He said the nation must complete realizing a peaceful, economic community on the Korean Peninsula and must no longer allow the division of the two Koreas to be an obstacle to peace and prosperity.
The remarks underline the president’s strong determination to improve inter-Korean relations and resolve the North Korean nuclear issue by next year to produce a turning point in establishing lasting peace on the peninsula.
Moon said the biggest achievement of the March First Movement was the foundation of South Korea's provisional government in accordance with the Declaration of Independence.
He said that owing to the movement, the nation became a democratic republic of the people.
On Japan, the president said he will ensure Tokyo faces up to its wartime past, even as Seoul seeks a forward-looking bilateral relationship.
One of the most sensitive issues with Japan is its wartime sex slavery of Korean women, euphemistically called "comfort women."
Moon said the Japanese government must not say that the comfort women issue is settled.
He said crimes against humanity committed during wartime cannot be covered up by saying that it is over, and that the only genuine solution to the unfortunate history is to remember and learn from the past.
The president added that Japan must face the truth and justice of history with the common conscience of humanity.
Moon also warned Japan against raising territorial claims over Korea’s easternmost islets of Dokdo. He said the islets were the first to be taken away by Japan during its invasion of the Korean Peninsula, and that Tokyo’s denial of this fact is no different from refusing to reflect on its imperialist aggression.
Moon did make it clear he wouldn't be bound by the past, expressing hopes the two nations build a future-oriented relationship based on true self-reflection and reconciliation.
The president also linked the March First Movement with the candlelight public protests held against the corruption scandal of the previous administration. He gave meaning to the two events, saying that 17 million candles revived the history of popular sovereignty which began from the independence movement.
He said the independence spirit and lives of the freedom fighters will be part of the country’s mainstream history. He called for building a society free of discrimination over wealth, gender, region and academic background and expressed hopes for South Korea to become a cultural powerhouse at the vanguard of global peace.