South Korean Lawmaker Won't Apologize for Japan Emperor Remarks

(Bloomberg) -- The speaker of South Korea’s parliament said he had no intention to apologize for his comments about Japan’s emperor, suggesting the issue could continue to stoke tensions between the neighbors.

National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang said there was no reason to show contrition for calling on Emperor Akihito to personally apologize to women forced to work in colonial-era Japanese military brothels, the Yonhap News Agency reported. Moon was responding to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who called the comments “extremely inappropriate” as his government demanded an apology and retraction.

South Korean Lawmaker Won't Apologize for Japan Emperor Remarks

“I don’t know why this is becoming such a big issue,” Moon told reporters during a visit to Washington on Tuesday, according to Yonhap. He said he was only seeking an apology for the former sex slaves -- euphemistically called “comfort women” -- and that he found Abe’s response “incomprehensible.”

“I really cannot understand why they’re doing this,” Moon said, adding that he’s “been saying the same thing for 10 years.” Moon’s office couldn’t immediately confirm the remarks when asked for comment.

Moon’s comments about the emperor came during a Bloomberg interview last week, in which he was asked how the two sides could resolve their long-running disagreements over Japan’s 1910-45 occupation of the Korean Peninsula. Moon said an apology from the emperor before his planned abdication in May would be most meaningful, since he was “the son of the main culprit of war crimes.”

Japan’s foreign ministry declined to respond to the Yonhap report and said there was no change to the country’s request for a retraction. “Speaker Moon’s comments were extremely inappropriate and it is most regrettable that he has repeatedly made similar remarks,” the ministry said.

The two countries, who are each other’s third-largest trading partners, have been sparring over a host of disagreements stemming from the colonial period. The friction between the two U.S. allies raises new questions about Washington’s efforts to build tighter bonds between its regional partners to counter North Korea and a rising China.

Most South Koreans believe Japan hasn’t sufficiently apologized for its actions during the occupation, while many Japanese argue past statements of regret, which include official apologies to the comfort women, should’ve been sufficient.

“For the comfort women issue, there is only one issue at hand, which is a heartfelt apology,” Moon said, according to Yonhap. “I don’t know why they’re dragging it out for so long.”

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