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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Aug. 16)

All Headlines 06:53 August 16, 2019

Dialogue overtures
Japan should respond positively to Moon's speech

President Moon Jae-in has expressed his hope that South Korea will resolve the ongoing trade spat with Japan through dialogue. Marking the 74th National Liberation Day on Thursday, he said the county will "gladly join hands" with Japan for East Asian prosperity if it chooses dialogue and cooperation to end the dispute.

Moon appeared to take a moderate stance on Japan's export curbs on Korea. This was in contrast to earlier anticipation that he might use strong words to call on Tokyo to retract its unilateral and irrational trade measures against Seoul. His soft tone could reflect his perception that it would be better to find a diplomatic resolution than escalate the problem.

The President has so far played hardball with Japan's apparent economic retaliation over the wartime forced labor issue. He has even threatened to take countermeasures against Tokyo without caving in to Japanese pressure to undo the Supreme Court's decisions ordering Japanese firms to pay compensation to surviving South Korean victims of forced labor during World War II.

It is fortunate to see that Moon has yet to give up diplomatic efforts to tackle the problem which has sent Seoul-Tokyo ties to their worst level since their 1965 diplomatic normalization. Both countries will have more to lose than gain from the escalating trade war no matter what its cause.

In this context, it is worth noting what Moon said in his address. "Better late than never: If Japan chooses the path of dialogue and cooperation, we will gladly join hands," he said. Moon added that Korea will strive to create an East Asia with Japan that engages in fair trade and competition. Like it or not, the two countries are Asian neighbors although they shared disgraced history in the first half of the 20th century.

The South Korean leader stressed the need to overcome the past and move toward the future together. He said, "We hope that Japan will play a leading role together in facilitating peace and prosperity in East Asia, while it contemplates a past that brought misfortune to its neighboring countries." However, Moon did not forget to call on the Shinzo Abe administration to stop using trade as a weapon.

Now the question is whether Japan will accept Moon's apparent dialogue overtures. Skepticism still prevails that the nationalist Abe government may continue to take a hardline position against Seoul unless the latter makes some concessions. But no one can totally rule out the possibility of both sides coming to terms with each other one way or another.

A foreign ministers' meeting between South Korea, Japan and China is likely to be held in Beijing next week. Some diplomatic experts expect that the meeting, if held, will serve as a forum for South Korean and Japanese foreign ministers to discuss how to tackle the bilateral trade dispute.

Most of all, it is important for the two sides to keep diplomatic channels open. We hope Korea and Japan will narrow their differences on historical and trade issues to restore mutual trust and build a future-oriented partnership.

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