+ A

Talks with Tokyo fruitless: Defense Ministry

Jan 10,2019
The dispute between South Korea and Japan over a recent incident involving a military radar shows no signs of cooling, as Seoul’s Ministry of Defense announced on Tuesday that ongoing talks with its counterparts in Tokyo have not yielded any results.

The South’s Defense Ministry also released on Tuesday additional videos it said repudiated Tokyo’s claims that a South Korean warship locked its fire-control radar on a Japanese patrol aircraft on Dec. 20. The video was subtitled in five different languages in addition to the Korean and English versions uploaded last week.

The videos publicize Seoul’s claim that its Gwanggaeto the Great-class destroyer did not aim its radar at the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force’s P-1 plane. Seoul said the fire-control radar was being used to supplement its surface-search radar while searching for a North Korean fishing vessel that had run adrift in international waters around 110 miles west of the Dokdo islets, which both Japan and South Korea claim. South Korea insists that the Japanese plane was seen provocatively flying at a low altitude, which was threatening to the destroyer.

“We have never seen any allied aircraft approach so close and in such a threatening manner to one of our warships before,” said Seoul’s Defense Ministry spokesman on Tuesday.

The videos are a response to an earlier 13-minute clip uploaded by the Japanese government last month that it claimed was proof that the South’s warship was deliberately aiming the radar at the Japanese plane.

Tokyo has also called out Seoul’s refusal to release radar wavelength data from the warship, which it claimed would prove whether the lock-on occurred. Local Japanese outlets quoted officials in Tokyo who said they may release their own data, despite it being a military secret.

Since late last month, the Japanese media has covered the issue extensively, condemning South Korea through attributions from Japanese government officials. Some outlets claimed that Tokyo’s release of its initial video footage was done at the order of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe himself, who overrode the more cautious approach of Tokyo’s Defense Ministry.

By contrast, the reaction from South Korea’s government has been low-key. Other than the videos and statements released by its Defense Ministry, no high-level officials have made any public announcements on the issue. The Korean media only took up the story on Dec. 28 after it had already made headlines in Japan.

Political analysts say that the different response between the two countries highlights the extent to which the diplomatic row is politically useful for Abe at the expense of the Korean government. Analysts in Korea see Abe’s attacks on Seoul over this issue, as well as a recent row over damage lawsuits filed against Japanese companies by Korean victims of wartime forced labor, as an attempt to shore up domestic support. The videos from both countries have largely served to inflame online arguments between Japanese and Koreans, though Japanese users appear to be more active based on the comments on the videos’ YouTube pages.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha agreed over a phone conversation last Friday to resolve the issue through negotiations between the two countries. As the South’s Defense Ministry pointed out Tuesday, little headway has been made on setting up a meeting between Seoul and Tokyo, reportedly due to disagreements over where to meet.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]