By Song Sang-ho
SEOUL, Aug. 15 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in on Thursday reaffirmed his unflinching commitment to inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation despite resurgent skepticism over his peace drive amid Pyongyang's saber-rattling and hardening rhetoric.
In his Liberation Day speech, Moon stressed the "unshaken" momentum for dialogue with the North as a "significant result" of Seoul's peace initiative, and hammered away at his "peace economy" mantra to move forward his cross-border cooperation agenda.
Doubts have been resurfacing over the prospects of his engagement with the North as the regime has launched a series of short-range projectiles, including ballistic missiles, to protest the ongoing combined military exercise between the United States and the South.
"In spite of a series of worrying actions taken by North Korea recently, the momentum for dialogue remains unshaken, which is a significant result of my government's peace process on the Korean Peninsula," Moon said.
"Even though numerous forces still exist at home and abroad that seek to stir up conflict, we have been able to come this far thanks to our people's fervent desire for peace," he said.
Moon has invested much of his political capital into improving cross-border relations and establishing a lasting peace on the divided peninsula since he took office in May 2017, when fears of war emerged with the North's menacing provocations and the Koreas being incommunicado.
His dogged pursuit of rapprochement has led to a reduction in military tensions and a rise in inter-Korean trust, and facilitated dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang to set a denuclearization process in motion.
But limited progress in the nuclear talks with the North and little substantive headway in inter-Korean economic cooperation have deepened skepticism over the viability of the overall Korean peace process.
To add insult to injury, the North has recently said that inter-Korean dialogue won't resume unless the South offers a "plausible excuse" for its combined military exercise with the U.S., which Pyongyang has berated as a rehearsal for an invasion.
Moon, however, sticks to his dialogue-based approach for peace while warning against any move to dampen the mood for talks.
"Even if there is a cause for dissatisfaction, making dialogue difficult by spoiling the mood or erecting barriers is by no means a desirable course of action," the president said.
Despite its missile launches and sharp rhetoric against Seoul, Pyongyang has hinted that it would remain open to dialogue.
U.S. President Donald Trump revealed on Twitter last weekend that in a recent letter to him, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expressed his desire to resume the talks with the U.S. as soon as the South Korea-U.S. military exercises end later this month.
At their impromptu meeting at the inter-Korean border on June 30, Trump and Kim agreed to relaunch their nuclear talks. But talks have not been held amid the North's furious reactions to the military drills.
Moon pointed out that the North and the U.S. are exploring the working-level talks ahead of their third summit, which he said may constitute the "most critical juncture in the entire process of achieving denuclearization and establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula."
"If there is dissatisfaction, it too should be raised and discussed at the negotiating table. I hope the people will also pull together to ensure that we can overcome the last hurdle in the dialogue process," Moon said.
"When we pass this hurdle, denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula will move closer and inter-Korean relations will also make significant strides," he added.
Moon also doubled down on his push for a "peace economy," a scheme under which the two Koreas join forces to promote peace, create new growth engines and pursue co-prosperity on the peninsula and beyond.
His detractors have used the North's recent missile launches as useful fodder to cast the scheme as a far-fetched dream.
"We will create new economic growth engines through the peace economy. We can no longer afford to let division consume our capacities," he said. "We will open the door to a new Korean Peninsula by pouring all we have into the peace economy."
His Liberation Day speech went beyond the level of economic cooperation to include a broad vision for national unification by 2045, when the Koreas will mark the 100th anniversary of their liberation from Japan.
"We aim to establish a peace economy, in which prosperity is achieved through peace and also complete our liberation through the unification of the peninsula," he said.
"By overcoming the division of the peninsula, we must transform the Korean people's energy into a driving force for future prosperity."
N. Korea seen eyeing high ground in upcoming nuclear talks with U.S.
U.S., N.K. on course for nuke talks despite challenges ahead
(News Focus) N.K. constitutional revisions signal Kim's more active involvement in diplomacy, domestic affairs
Inter-Korean relations in limbo despite end of allies' joint drill
Moon presents 'unshakable nation' vision, extends olive branch to Japan