SEOUL, Jan. 11 (Xinhua) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Monday that his government can hold dialogue with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) anytime, anywhere and even in a contactless way.
"Our willingness to meet (with the DPRK) at any time and any place and to hold dialogue even in a contactless way has been unchanged," Moon said in a nationally televised New Year's speech.
Moon said the main power of the Korean Peninsula peace process is dialogue, coexistence and cooperation, hoping to open a way for peace and coexistence in the process of addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.
He proposed to the DPRK joining a regional dialogue for anti-epidemic, healthcare cooperation in Asia, saying inter-Korean cooperation to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak could expand into a cooperation in dealing with other safety issues such as the infectious disease of domestic animals and the natural disaster.
Moon said his government will make its last effort to achieve a great shift in dialogues between the DPRK and the United States and between South Korea and the DPRK in accordance with the launch of the U.S. Biden administration later this month.
Moon was sworn in as president in May 2017, and his five-year presidency is left less than one and a half years.
Denuclearization talks between Pyongyang and Washington have been stalled since the second DPRK-U.S. summit ended without agreement at the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi in February 2019.
He said South Korea will expand cooperation and exchange by speeding up negotiations on free trade agreements (FTAs) with such countries as the Philippines, Cambodia and Uzbekistan, while accelerating negotiations on services and investment FTAs with China and Russia as well as cooperation with Brazil, Argentina and Mexico.
Moon reiterated that his administration will actively consider joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), following Seoul's signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in November 2020.
The president vowed to continue efforts for the future-oriented relations between South Korea and Japan.
His remark came after a Seoul court ordered the Japanese government Friday to pay reparations of 100 million won (91,000 U.S. dollars) to each of 12 South Korean plaintiffs who filed the damages claim suit against Japan.
The plaintiffs are the victims who were forced into sex slavery for the Imperial Japan's military brothels during World War II. They are euphemistically called comfort women.
Japan lodged a protest over the South Korean court's ruling on the day, raising expectation for the worsened Seoul-Tokyo ties that were already frayed over the wartime forced labor and trade disputes between the two countries.
Regarding domestic issues, Moon vowed to offer COVID-19 vaccines to all of the country's population free of charge according to priorities, saying the vaccination campaign can start next month.
He said his government will continue to spur a homegrown vaccine development while keeping an examination on the indigenous COVID-19 treatment currently under way.
The government announced that it had secured COVID-19 vaccine doses for 56 million people, including doses for 10 million each from AstraZeneca and Pfizer, 20 million from Moderna, 6 million from Janssen and 10 million from the COVAX facility.
In the latest tally, South Korea reported a total of 69,114 COVID-19 cases and 1,140 deaths out of the country's 52 million population. The daily caseload fell below 500 in 41 days after hovering around 1,000 in December.
The local virus spread showed signs of moderating this year as the government's five-tier social-distancing guideline was raised to the second-highest level that is scheduled to be kept in place for six weeks through Jan. 17.
Moon said the government began Monday to distribute its third round of relief checks to 2.8 million small-business owners and the self-employed as well as 870,000 people vulnerable to job losses.
Under the tightened distancing rule, high-risk facilities such as karaoke bars, indoor sports facilities, night clubs and private cram schools were forced to stop operation, while such brick-and-mortar businesses as coffee shops, cafes, restaurants, internet cafes and beauty salons were allowed to open with restrictions.
The micro-business owners will be given relief grants of between 1 million won (910 U.S. dollars) and 3 million won (2,730 U.S. dollars), less than a monthly rent for mom-and-pop stores especially in the Seoul metropolitan area.
Moon admitted that the relief payment would not be enough to cover their losses, but he hoped that it can be the priming water to jump-start the recovery of the domestic economy. Enditem