TOKYO -- Tokyo has lodged a protest with Seoul regarding comments made by a senior South Korean lawmaker about the Japanese emperor and Japan's colonial rule of the peninsula.
The complaint comes after South Korean National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang said that, as "the son of the main culprit of war crimes," Emperor Akihito should deliver a personal apology to former "comfort women" before his abdication in May.
The term refers to women who were made to work in Japanese military brothels during World War II.
"It only takes one word from the prime minister, who represents Japan -- I wish the emperor would do it since he will step down soon," Moon was quoted by Bloomberg as saying in an interview on Thursday. "So, if a person like that holds the hands of the elderly and says he's really sorry, then that one word will resolve matters once and for all."
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he "was stunned" when he read the comments at a parliamentary debate Tuesday. "We lodged a strong protest with South Korea and requested an apology and a retraction of the remarks."
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga described Moon's comments as "extremely inappropriate and highly regrettable." Foreign Minister Taro Kono on Sunday told reporters in the Philippines that he felt the South Korean lawmaker should "be more careful about his statements."
Seoul has apparently sought to calm the situation by clarifying the nature of Moon's comments. "The South Korean government explained to Japan that the remarks came out of his desire for an early improvement of bilateral relations," Suga told reporters.
The dispute further complicates already tense relations. Japan has repeatedly complained about a South Korean Supreme Court ruling in October that awarded compensation to former laborers who were forced to work in Japan before and during World War II. The decision seemingly goes against a diplomatic understanding that the issue of compensation had been settled by a bilateral accord in 1965.
The animosity has also been fueled by Seoul's decision to disband a foundation set up to support comfort women by Abe and former South Korean President Park Geun-hye in 2016. More recently, Japan has protested an incident in which a South Korean destroyer allegedly directed fire-control radar against a Japanese naval patrol plane.