Photo/IllutrationSouth Korean President Moon Jae-in holds his New Year press conference at the presidential Blue House in Seoul on Jan. 10. (Pool Photo via AP)

SEOUL--South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday Japan's political leaders should not undermine bilateral ties by "politicizing" the issue of South Koreans forced to work by Japanese companies during World War II.

Relations between the two East Asian neighbors have been frosty since South Korea's top court ruled in October that Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. should compensate four former laborers.

Japan subsequently claimed that a South Korean warship had locked its radar on a Japanese patrol plane.

On Wednesday, Tokyo demanded diplomatic consultations with Seoul after a South Korean court approved the seizure of part of the domestic assets of the Japanese steelmaker, calling the move "extremely regrettable."

Moon called for the Japanese government to foster a "more humble attitude" towards wartime issues and to respect judicial decisions, in which he said his administration could not exert any influence.

"We've been saying we should continue diplomatic discussions on the issue and should not hurt our forward-looking relationship with Japan," Moon told a news conference.

"I don't think it is wise for Japanese politicians and leader to continue to politicize it, making sources of controversy and spreading them," he said.

South Korea and Japan share a bitter history that includes Japan's 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula, the forced mobilization of labor at Japanese companies and other issues.

Those issues have not been resolved by a 1965 treaty that normalized relations, Moon said, and the two countries should try to find ways to heal the wounds of victims.