Addressing her two biggest foreign policy challenges, South Korea's new president, Park Geun-hye, urged Japan yesterday to acknowledge its aggressive past while calling on North Korea to peacefully engage with the South and abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
"While provocations by the North will be met by stronger responses, the North's willingness to make the right choice and walk the path of change will be answered with more flexible engagement," Park said in her first national speech after her inauguration on Monday.
"I urge the North to hasten efforts to normalise inter-Korean relations and open an era of happiness on the Korean Peninsula together with us."
The tradition of a South Korean president addressing the nation to mark the March 1, 1919, Korean uprising against Japan's colonisation of the peninsula in the early 20th century gave Park a chance to express her thoughts on North Korea and Japan.
Seoul's testy relations with North Korea have grown much more antagonistic in recent months as North Korea has tested both a long-range rocket and a nuclear device.
And it has threatened to test more if Washington and its allies push for more sanctions against the highly militarised country, complicating Park's agenda even before she started a five-year term as South Korea's first female president.
During her election campaign, Park suggested that she would end prolonged inter-Korean tensions that prevailed under her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, whose hardline policy saw two nuclear tests and three long-range rocket tests by North Korea, as well as two military attacks blamed on the North that killed 50 South Koreans in 2010.
But during the campaign she also appealed to her conservative power base by stressing she would not tolerate the North's nuclear weapons programme and military provocations.
Yesterday, US and South Korean forces started their annual Key Resolve and Foal Eagle military exercises, while in the North, the leader, Kim Jong-un, has been visiting military bases warning of war and calling for "miserable destruction" of the US and South Korean militaries.
"North Korea must realise that nothing will be gained from nuclear development or provocations save for greater isolation and hardship," Park said.
Park was less equivocal on Japan, whose colonisation of Korea from 1910 until its second world war defeat in 1945 has overshadowed the two countries' thriving economic relationship.
"The historic dynamic of one party being a perpetrator and the other party a victim will remain unchanged even after a thousand years have passed," Park said, calling for Japan to have "a correct understanding of history."
"For our two nations to heal the wounds of the past and march together toward a future of shared progress, it is necessary for the Japanese government to change unreservedly and behave in a responsible manner