Moon warns of 'new Cold War'
President Moon Jae-in said he was worried about a "new Cold War" amid a rise in nationalism and a push to "gain hegemony by force," a reference to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in an address Tuesday.
At a ceremony in Seoul marking the 103rd anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement, Korea's nationwide demonstrations protesting Japanese rule that began on March 1, 1919, Moon also called on Tokyo to "squarely face" history to overcome the two countries' "unfortunate past."
Addressing global uncertainties, Moon said that the "international order is fluctuating amid the Covid-19 crisis" and that "competition over technology is intensifying."
"State-centered nationalism, which seeks to gain hegemony by force, is raising its head again," said Moon. "Concerns over a new Cold War are on the rise as well. However, we are imbued with the spirit of the March First Independence Movement, which resisted violence, discrimination and injustice and rejected a hegemonic international order."
Though Moon stopped short of mentioning Russia by name, his remarks appear to urge a peaceful resolution to the situation in Ukraine.
Korea said Monday it would ban exports of strategic items to Russia and block certain Russian banks' access to the SWIFT international financial messaging system as a part of efforts to join in global sanctions against Moscow.
Moon said that the lesson from Korea's independence movement was to "have the power to lead our history without being pushed around by an international order centered on powerful countries."
The scaled-down ceremony, attended by some 50 officials, descendants of independence fighters and other dignitaries, was held at the newly opened National Memorial of the Korean Provisional Government in Seodaemun District, central Seoul, dedicated to Korea's government-in-exile established in Shanghai in 1919.
Japan's colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula lasted from 1910 to 1945.
Moon noted that cooperation between Seoul and Tokyo "is the responsibility of the current generation for the sake of future generations."
Relations between Seoul and Tokyo deteriorated after Japan's export restrictions on Korea in 2019, seen as a retaliatory measure against Korean court rulings the previous year ordering Japanese companies to individually compensate victims of wartime forced labor. The two sides also struggle over other historical issues, including the Japanese military's recruitment of women into sexual slavery before and during World War II, topics not directly raised in the speech.
"In this time of many difficulties, Korea and Japan — close neighbors — must be able to overcome the history of the once-unfortunate past and cooperate for the future," said Moon. "I sincerely hope that Japan will take leadership as an advanced nation. To this end, Japan must squarely face history and be humble before it."
He added that "Japan will become a trustworthy country only when it is able to empathize with the wounds of the people of neighboring countries."
Moon repeated his intention to have a two-track approach to Tokyo and said that his administration will "always keep the door open for dialogue to join forces not only for regional peace and prosperity but also in responding to global challenges," including Covid-19, the climate crisis, supply chain issues and the new economic order.
He stressed his vision of denuclearization and bringing permanent peace to the Korean Peninsula through dialogue and diplomacy, despite such prospects being "tenuous" amid the current suspension of talks with Pyongyang.
"There was no South and North Korea during the March First Independence Movement," said Moon. "Efforts for dialogue to sustain peace must continue."
His final March 1 address highlighted South Korea's accomplishments in economics, multilateralism, K-pop and Hallyu culture and democracy.
Moon in his speech referred to the Kim Dae-jung administration as "the first democratic government in Korea."
The remark drew a backlash from members of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP), who said it diminished accomplishments made by previous presidents and distorted history.
Hwang Kyu-hwan, a PPP spokesman, asked, "Is President Moon unaware of the achievements of former President Kim Young-sam, who devoted his life to democratization?"
At the ceremony, figure skater Cha Jun-hwan, who finished fifth in the men's singles figure skating competition at the Beijing Olympics, made a pledge of allegiance to the Korean flag, the Taegukgi, and foreign participants recited Korea's independence declaration in English, French and Japanese.
In commemoration of the March 1 movement, 219 independence fighters received government awards, and four patriots were presented medals of merit by Moon during the ceremony.
Moon, first lady Kim Jung-sook and other dignitaries toured the exhibition halls of the new memorial, which will be open to the public starting Wednesday.
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]