Japanese Ambassador to South Korea Koichi Aiboshi has reprimanded his deputy Hirohisa Soma for making an "extremely inappropriate remark" during a conversation with a local media reporter, the Japanese Embassy in Seoul said Saturday.
The announcement came after South Korean broadcaster JTBC reported the previous day that a high-level Japanese Embassy official told one of its reporters that South Korean President Moon Jae In is in a tug-of-war only with himself over frayed ties between Japan and South Korea, using a sexually explicit expression.
The embassy said Soma, who serves as its deputy chief of mission, admitted to Aiboshi that he had indeed made the remark as reported. It also said Soma had retracted his remark on the spot.
South Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong Kun called Aiboshi in on Saturday to protest at his deputy's "rude" remark, and asked that the Japanese government take "visible" steps to prevent a similar incident, according to the South Korean Foreign Ministry. The ministry said the ambassador conveyed his regret to the minister and said he will report Seoul's request to the Japanese government.
As the incident turns into a diplomatic case between the two neighbors, local media reported that there is speculation Seoul is calling for Soma to be sent back to Japan.
The incident came as Moon is considering visiting Japan to attend the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics next Friday and hold talks with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on the sidelines.
Frustration is said to be growing within the South Korean government about the Japanese government's reluctance to agree to formal summit talks between Moon and Suga, a condition set for the president's visit.
Japan and South Korea have not held summit talks since December 2019, when Suga's predecessor Shinzo Abe and Moon met. Suga and Moon merely exchanged greetings at a Group of Seven summit event in Britain in June.
Japan-South Korea relations remain strained due largely to a feud over wartime compensation.