TOKYO - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stood firm on Japan's spat with South Korea, stressing that the issues of wartime labour and trade are "not linked at all" even as Seoul argues otherwise.
Mr Abe, speaking at a news conference in New York on Wednesday (Sept 25), also criticised Seoul's decision last month to allow a bilateral military intelligence pact to lapse on Nov 23.
"Japan's consistent stance is that the state of our bilateral ties should not affect security cooperation. It's deeply regrettable that South Korea unilaterally decided to terminate the pact," Mr Abe said.
"We will continue to urge South Korea to keep promises made between countries," he added.
Mr Abe had discussed South Korea with United States President Donald Trump, Japanese media reported. But there was again no summit meeting between Mr Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who was also in New York for the United Nations General Assembly.
Ties between Japan and South Korea are now in permafrost over a dispute on history that has spilled over into trade and security.
Tokyo has said a series of South Korean Supreme Court rulings on wartime labour are illegitimate in the light of the two countries' 1965 treaty to normalise ties, under which all compensation claims were paid out. But Seoul argues that the pact does not stop victims from filing their own claims.
Last month, Tokyo struck Seoul off its trade white list of preferential trading partners, citing undermined trust amid national security concerns that have arisen over allegedly lax export controls. Seoul sees this move as retaliation over their wartime labour dispute.
South Korea then scrapped the General Security of Military Information Agreement, saying Tokyo's inability to trust Seoul meant that it was inappropriate and against its national interests to continue sharing sensitive intelligence.
Mr Abe said in New York that the tightened export controls on its items bound for South Korea are in line with World Trade Organisation rules, and will not have spillover effects on trade with any country.