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Moon Jae-in's encounter with Japan envoy raises hopes of improved ties

By Elizabeth Shim
Moon Jae-in's encounter with Japan envoy raises hopes of improved ties
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, first lady Kim Jung-sook (R) and Seoul-based diplomats make finger heart gestures at the presidential Blue House on Friday. Photo by Yonhap/EPA-EFE

Oct. 18 (UPI) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in shook hands and held an extended conversation with the top Japanese diplomat to Seoul on Friday, a possible sign Moon seeks the rehabilitation of ties with Tokyo.

Moon's conversation with Ambassador Yasumasa Nagamine during a presidential Blue House reception for more than 111 Seoul-based ambassadors on Friday was not on record, but lasted longer than his brief exchanges with other top envoys, Yonhap reported.

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Moon spent about a minute per ambassador, shaking each diplomat's hand. When he met Nagamine, the conversation lasted 2 minutes. It is likely the South Korean leader mentioned the need to improve bilateral relations, according to Yonhap.

Moon smiled as he shook hands with Nagamine, and first lady Kim Jung-sook held hands with Nagamine's spouse for more than 10 seconds.

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In a speech Friday, the South Korean president said Seoul is looking to create "lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula" while pursuing denuclearization, which he described as a "historic change."

"If only we climb over that wall can we create a bright future without going back to the era of confrontation," Moon said, according to Newsis.

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Moon also said fair and free trade can save the world economy and that only international cooperation can properly address climate change.

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Omani Ambassador to Seoul Mohamed Salim Alharthy, head of the Seoul-based diplomatic corps, expressed "deepest gratitude" to Moon and said all "wish for peace" on the peninsula.

Alharthy toasted the South Korean president with orange juice. The diplomats and Moon also made a "finger heart" with their hands -- a gesture often used by South Korean pop stars to send their love to fans.

Moon hosted the diplomatic corps at his residence for the first time since assuming office in 2017. Previous presidents, including Roh Moo-hyun and Lee Myung-bak, hosted the ambassadors three times during their terms of office.

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