Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denounced a top South Korean lawmaker’s comments about the Japanese emperor as “extremely inappropriate,” ratcheting up already-high tensions between the two neighbours.
Abe told parliament that Japan asked South Korea to apologize for National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang’s remarks last week describing Emperor Akihito as “the son of the main culprit of war crimes.” Moon made the statement in a Bloomberg interview in which he urged an imperial apology to resolve a dispute over the colonial-era trafficking of Korean women to work in Japanese military brothels.
“When I read these remarks, I was really surprised,” Abe told lawmakers in Tokyo. “Our country immediately conveyed to South Korea via the diplomatic route that Speaker Moon’s comments were extremely inappropriate and most regrettable. We protested strongly and called for an apology and a retraction.”
The two countries, who are each other’s third-largest trading partners, have been sparring over issues arising from Japan’s 1910-45 occupation of the Korean Peninsula. The friction between the two US allies raises new questions about Washington’s efforts to build tighter bonds between its regional partners to counter North Korea and a rising China.
Asked about Abe’s comments, the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs repeated its earlier response that Moon’s remarks were intended to emphasize the suffering of the victims and that the country was committed to “future-oriented” ties. “Japan needs to show sincerity for honor, dignity and to heal the emotional pain of the victims based on a victim-centered approach,” the ministry’s spokesman said at a briefing.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono had cautioned Moon against making divisive remarks, without publicly demanding an apology. “We don’t yet know how South Korea will deal with this, but we expect a sincere response,” Kono told parliament Tuesday.
Most South Koreans believe Japan hasn’t sufficiently apologized for its actions during the 1910-45 occupation, while many Japanese argue past statements of regret should’ve been sufficient. While Akihito has expressed remorse over Japan’s colonization of Korea, his revered position makes any attempt to involve him in disputes unacceptable to many Japanese.
The debate has reemerged since Moon Jae-in was elected president in 2017 and moved to undo the comfort women pact his predecessor reached with Abe.