SEOUL • South Korean President Moon Jae-in yesterday said Japan's political leaders should not undermine bilateral ties by "politicising" the issue of South Koreans forced to work by Japanese companies during World War II.
Relations between the two East Asian neighbours have been frosty since South Korea's top court ruled last October that Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp should compensate four former labourers.
Japan subsequently claimed that a South Korean warship had locked its radar on a Japanese patrol plane.
On Wednesday, Tokyo demanded diplomatic consultations with Seoul after a South Korean court approved the seizure of part of the domestic assets of the Japanese steelmaker, calling the move "extremely regrettable".
The South Korean leader called for the Japanese government to foster a "more humble attitude" towards wartime issues and to respect judicial decisions, over which he said his administration could not exert any influence.
"We've been saying we should continue diplomatic discussions on the issue and should not hurt our forward-looking relationship with Japan," Mr Moon told a news conference.
"I don't think it is wise for Japanese politicians and leader to continue to politicise it, making sources of controversy and spreading them," he added.
South Korea and Japan share a long bitter history that includes Japan's 1910-45 colonisation of the Korean Peninsula, the forced mobilisation of Korean labour for Japanese companies as well as the use of comfort women, Japan's euphemism for girls and women, many of them Korean, forced to work in its wartime brothels.
Those issues were not resolved by a 1965 treaty that normalised relations, Mr Moon said, and the two countries should try to find ways to heal the wounds of victims.