President Park Geun-hye on Friday pressed North Korea again to give up its nuclear weapons programs as she offered her latest conciliatory overture meant to lay the groundwork for potential unification with Pyongyang.
She suggested that North Korea should follow in the footsteps of Kazakhstan in giving up nuclear weapons and emulate Vietnam and Myanmar, which opted for reform and openness, noting those countries enjoy peace and prosperity.
"Now, North Korea should abandon its nuclear programs and join the international community," Park said in a televised Liberation Day address marking the end of Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
Still, North Korea vowed to continuously test-fire rockets in what it calls a powerful show of force against South Korea and the United States, the North's official Korean Central News Agency said Friday, citing a senior official handling the country's rocket research. The North said The development came a day after North Korea fired five short-range rockets into the sea off the country's east coast, the latest show of force that coincided with a trip to South Korea by Pope Francis, the first visit to Seoul by a pontiff in 25 years.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un guided the latest test-fire of rockets, which Pyongyang said was designed to mark the 69th anniversary of the liberation of the Korean Peninsula, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency.
North Korea described the latest launches as a "blessing" for the rival Koreas marking the same anniversary.
On Thursday, Francis called for dedication to build peace on the Korean Peninsula, though he admitted the quest for peace represents a challenge.
Park also warned that the threats posed by North Korea's missile launches and its development of nuclear weapons "will never be tolerated" and said its threats will "deepen its isolation and result in tying its own hands and feet."
North Korea has repeatedly rejected similar international calls to quit its nuclear programs in return for diplomatic concessions and aid.
The communist country has vowed to develop its economy and nuclear arsenal in tandem, viewing its nuclear programs as a powerful deterrent against what it claims is Washington's hostile policy against it.
Last week, North Korea threatened to conduct a nuclear test in response to South Korea-U.S. joint military drills set to begin on Monday.
The North also boasted that its rockets tipped with nuclear warheads are powerful enough to strike the U.S. mainland, a claim that Pyongyang has mastered the technology to make nuclear warheads small enough to fit on ballistic missiles.
The claim has long been a worst-case scenario for Washington.
Park called on North Korea to accept Seoul's recent offer of high-level talks meant to discuss the reunion of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War and other issues of "mutual concern."
North Korea has yet to reply to Seoul's offer to hold the talks on Tuesday.
She also proposed that the two Koreas find and preserve cultural heritage and prepare cultural projects to commemorate the 70th anniversary of independence from Japanese rule that falls next August.
Park's overture included an invitation to North Korea to send its delegation to Seoul in October for an international convention on biological diversity.
Also Friday, Park called for Japanese leaders' determination to start a new future with South Korea after decades of historical disputes stemming from Japan's brutal colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
South Korea has repeatedly urged Japanese leaders to face up to history and take forward-looking measures for elderly South Korean women who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japan's World War II soldiers.
"The relations between South Korea and Japan can steadily develop only when these issues are correctly resolved," Park said, noting historical facts are something that can neither be hidden nor denied at will.
In Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering to a controversial war shrine early Friday making the 69th anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War II, though he did not visit the place seen as a symbol of the country's imperialistic past.
Still, some of his Cabinet members and lawmakers visited the Yasukuni Shrine that honors Japan's war dead, and includes class-A war criminals.
Japan's move drew an immediate ire from South Korea and China.
Japan controlled much of China during World War II.
South Korea's foreign ministry said it "cannot help deploring" Abe's move and Japanese politicians' visit to the shrine.
The bilateral ties have reached their lowest ebb in recent years due to Japan's stance on historical grievances such as the issue of sex slavery and its territorial claims to Seoul's easternmost islands of Dokdo. (Yonhap)