Japan demands South Korean speaker retract call for Emperor’s apology to ‘comfort women’

Japan has demanded South Korean National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang retract remarks seeking an apology from Emperor Akihito to women forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels, or “comfort women,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday.

The term comfort women is a euphemism used to refer to women who provided sex, including those who did so against their will, for Japanese troops before and during World War II.

“We conveyed through diplomatic channels that it is very regrettable, as the remarks included extremely inappropriate contents,” Abe said during a Lower House Budget Committee meeting.

Top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga also told a news conference the same day that the remarks “were extremely inappropriate and deplorable,” adding Tokyo has lodged a “stern protest” with Seoul and demanded an apology through diplomatic channels.

Bloomberg news service reported last week that Moon called Emperor Akihito “the son of the main culprit of war crimes” during an interview, referring to his father Emperor Hirohito, Japan’s monarch during World War II, who is posthumously called Emperor Showa.

“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,” Moon was quoted as saying when asked how South Korea and Japan can end their long-running disputes over wartime history.

The South Korean government has told Japan that the report did not reflect Moon’s “true intentions” to seek an improvement in bilateral ties, according to Suga.

The row came at a time when bilateral ties have increasingly chilled over wartime issues related to Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945 and disputes over military activities.

A standoff over the comfort women issue has been intensifying after South Korea said in November last year that it will dissolve a Japanese-funded foundation set up under a 2015 agreement designed to finally and irreversibly settle the issue.

The South Korean assembly speaker’s interview came before the 85-year-old Emperor abdicates on April 30, the first living Japanese monarch to do so in about 200 years.

Bilateral ties have also soured over South Korean top court rulings ordering Japanese companies to compensate over wartime labor, and a dispute over a South Korean navy vessel’s alleged locking of a fire-control radar on a Japanese patrol plane in December.

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