President Moon Jae-in said South Korea is "always ready to sit down and have talks" with Japan over issues related to wartime history, in a speech on Monday commemorating the launch of the 1919 popular uprising against Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule.
"If (South Korea and Japan) put our heads together while putting ourselves in each other's shoes, I am sure that we could easily solve problems of the past wisely," Moon said, emphasizing the importance of cooperating for future-oriented ties.
The president called for the separation of historical issues from efforts to improve future ties, but stopped short of making concrete demands or a new proposal to the Japanese government.
His remarks came as bilateral ties have sunk to their lowest point in decades following South Korean Supreme Court rulings in 2018 that ordered Japanese companies to compensate groups of South Koreans for forced labor during Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
"The only obstacle we have to overcome is that, sometimes, issues of the past cannot be separated from those of the future but are intermingled with each other. This has impeded forward-looking development," the president said.
"We must not let the past hold us back. We have to concentrate more energy on future-oriented development while resolving issues of the past separately."
Moon said South Korea and Japan have become "very important neighbors to each other in all areas of the economy, culture and people-to-people exchanges," adding that bilateral cooperation will also facilitate stability and prosperity in Northeast Asia and three-way cooperation among South Korea, Japan and the United States.
With the Tokyo Olympics scheduled for this summer, Moon pledged to cooperate with Japan in making it successful, saying that the sporting event would serve as an "opportunity for dialogue" between South Korea and Japan, between South and North Korea, between North Korea and Japan, and between North Korea and the United States.
The president has recently signaled his willingness to improve ties with Japan.
Moon said in January that he views possible sales of Japanese companies' assets to compensate groups of South Koreans following the 2018 rulings as "undesirable" for bilateral ties, signaling his preference to find a diplomatic solution to avoid such sales.
The president also said then that he felt "a bit perplexed" by a South Korean court ruling in January that ordered the Japanese government to compensate former "comfort women" over their treatment in Japanese military brothels.
Moon acknowledged as official a 2015 agreement the South Korean and Japanese governments struck to "finally and irreversibly" resolve the comfort women issue, and said he would explore solutions based on it.
He had previously held that the bilateral deal could not resolve the issue, in part because it failed to properly reflect the women's wishes.
On Monday, Moon did reiterate his government's existing position that his government will "always pursue wise solutions based on a victim-centered approach."
"We will also do everything possible to restore the honor and dignity of victims," he added.
The Japanese government takes the position that a 1965 bilateral agreement settled all claims related to its colonial rule of the peninsula.