Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga gave Seoul the cold shoulder yet again in his policy speech on Monday, acknowledging directly the chill in ties between Seoul and Tokyo.
"South Korea is an important country. Right now, relations between the two countries are under a very severe condition."
Suga's description of South Korea is a clear downgrade from last October when he called it "a critically important neighboring country."
Also, the mention of South Korea came last after North Korea, China, Russia and the countries of ASEAN.
Suga then said Tokyo strongly urges Seoul to take appropriate steps to bring relations back to an even keel.
"Suga's support rate in Japan is tumbling because of his poor handling of the pandemic. There's also Japan's wartime sex slavery issue with South Korea. Suga is trying to raise his support rate by taking a rather aggressive and firm approach towards Seoul, which is not the wisest thing to do."
Ties grew more strained between the two sides earlier this month when a Seoul court ordered the Japanese government to compensate the South Korean victims of Japan's wartime sex slavery.
Japan lodged a formal complaint, and in response, Seoul's foreign ministry urged Tokyo on Monday to work to achieve constructive cooperation based on the apology it issued in 2015.
Also on Monday, the Japanese PM highlighted multilateralism in diplomacy, apparently conscious that the incoming Biden administration values such ideas.
Suga added that he is still willing to meet with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un under the right conditions.
Kim Dami, Arirang News.