Photo/IllutrationSouth Korean President Moon Jae-in delivers a speech during a ceremony to mark the 74th anniversary of Korea's liberation from Japanese colonial rule at the Independence Hall of Korea in Cheonan on Aug. 15. (Pool Photo via AP)

SEOUL--South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Aug. 15 urged Japan to join in mending bilateral ties in an address marking the anniversary of the end of World War II, avoiding direct criticism of Tokyo.

“We will gladly hold its hand if Japan even now decides to follow a path of having a dialogue and cooperation (with South Korea),” he said.

Although he vowed to stand firm in response to Japan’s recent “unjust” toughening of export regulations toward South Korea, he avoided criticizing Tokyo for rows related to differences in historical issues.

Moon’s address came in sharp contrast with his predecessors as it was a norm for the leaders to refer to Tokyo in a critical tone at the ceremony to celebrate the liberation of the Korean Peninsula from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule.

In his speech, he did not touch on thorny issues such as the compensation of wartime Korean laborers by Japanese companies and "comfort women," who were forced to provide sex to wartime Japanese troops. Many of these women were from the Korean Peninsula.

Moon used the occasion to positively describe Japan’s defeat in the war not only for his country, but also for the Japanese public.

It allowed South Korea to regain sovereignty and the “Japanese public to be liberated from the oppression of militarism and a war of aggression.”

It was the first time Moon has offered such a view.

The president also spoke approvingly of the ties between Japan and South Korea after the countries normalized relations in 1965.

“(South Korea) has cooperated with Japan in the fields of security and economy, rather than dwelling on the past,” he said. “With Japan, South Korea has worked to substantially heal the pain of victims (from Japan’s colonial occupation).”

On future relations, Moon said he hopes that the two countries will join in playing a leading role to build peace and prosperity in East Asia while Japan reflects on its past in which he said it caused misery to its neighbor.

“Only when they work together, can they both prosper and prosperity can become sustainable,” he said.

Turning to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Moon called it a “perfect opportunity to move toward co-prosperity.”