South Korean President Moon Jae In on Thursday accused Japan of politicizing recent court decisions over wartime labor involving Japanese firms, calling it an unwise move.
Moon also told reporters in Seoul that the South Korean government must respect judicial decisions as a matter of the separation of powers among the three branches of government.
Recent South Korean Supreme Court decisions ordering Japanese firms to compensate South Koreans forced into labor in wartime have rattled ties between the nations.
"The Korean government has been saying this issue needs to be solved...with wisdom from both countries so that future ties would not be hurt," Moon said at a New Year's press conference at the presidential office. "The politicization of this issue by Japanese politicians and political leaders, however, is not a wise stance to take."
Japan urged South Korea on Wednesday to launch talks as a Japanese steelmaker faced the imminent seizure of its assets after refusing to comply with a top court order in October to pay compensation to four South Koreans.
The plaintiffs were recognized as having been forced into labor during Japan's 1910 to 1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
The request to launch inter-governmental talks on the top court's ruling and ensuing developments is based on a bilateral accord to settle property claims signed alongside the 1965 Japan-South Korea treaty that established diplomatic ties.
Japan maintains that the issue of compensation was settled "completely and finally" under the agreement. Tokyo also says Seoul has yet to take concrete steps despite its request to address the situation.
On Thursday, Moon said that while Japan could "complain" about the court's ruling, it should also know that "there's nothing it can do about it" given the separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches.
"I think the Japanese government should take a more humble stance," the president also said.
As to the steps South Korea is considering to address the situation, Moon indicated that it might take time to come up with a decision given that authorities are investigating the allegation that the judiciary delayed ruling on wartime labor cases under the previous administration led by President Park Geun Hye.
South Korea's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that the government will consider the Japanese request for talks but did not say how it intends to respond.
It said South Korea intends to come up with measures that will help victims of forced labor recover from their damaging experiences while taking into consideration future-oriented ties with Japan.
In Tokyo on Thursday morning, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the Japanese government has not received any response from the South Korean government regarding its request to start consultations over the wartime issue.
"We are aware that Japan-South Korea relations are in an extremely severe situation, and Japan will continue to request South Korea take appropriate measures on various matters," the top government spokesman said at a news briefing.