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Tokyo presses its case against Seoul on radar

Japanese media is even suggesting some economic sanctions
Jan 22,2019
The diplomatic spat between South Korea and Japan over military radar entered its second month on Monday, with Tokyo’s Defense Ministry announcing it would release radio signal data that will prove its maritime surveillance plane was targeted by a Korean warship last month.

Japan’s offer to release a recording of the radar warning receiver on its P-1 surveillance jet, which it earlier claimed was a military secret, is the latest move by Tokyo to “gain international support” for its side in the dispute with Seoul, according to a report from the right wing Sankei News Monday.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry called the decision an “inappropriate public relations” move, and said it preferred a “scientific and objective verification process attended by professionals from both countries.”

Tokyo claims the recording will reveal that the South Korean warship - a Gwanggaetto the Great-class destroyer - locked its fire-control radar on the maritime-patrol aircraft on Dec. 20, an act it called “extremely dangerous.” Seoul, however, has doubts about whether such a recording can prove the warship actually locked its fire-control on the aircraft. Seoul says the radar was being used by its warship to rescue a North Korean ship that had run aground on the international waters of the East Sea at the time.

After Japan complained a month ago, there has been a series of choleric exchanges from both sides and releases of videos subtitled in multiple languages to back up their respective claims. The acrimony was exacerbated by Tokyo’s objections to two South Korean court rulings on damages suits filed by Korean victims of forced labor against Japanese companies.

To defuse the tensions, the two sides finally held talks between military generals in Singapore on Jan. 14 after an earlier lower level conference failed to make progress. The Japanese delegation at the meeting reportedly demanded the South hand over all radio frequency data from its warship, which the Korean delegates rejected.

According to the South Korea’s Defense Ministry, the Korean delegates proposed that the two countries form a joint team of professionals from both sides to investigate the incident. The Japanese reportedly did not respond to the offer.

While the talks yielded no compromise, the Japanese delegation had an interesting reaction to the accusation that its plane had flown at a dangerously low altitude. When Korean negotiators asked whether Japan would not object to a Korean plane flying at a low altitude near a Japanese ship, Tokyo’s delegates said it would not. The Koreans then said they would make Japan’s position on low-flying by foreign aircraft known to the public, to which the Japanese delegates went back on their statement and said it was not an “official response.”

In Japan, local media has been relentlessly condemning South Korea over the incident, with some raising the possibility that Tokyo may impose economic sanctions on Seoul over their accumulating diplomatic rows.

According to a Saturday report from Yukan Fuji, an evening tabloid, some forces inside Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party are calling for a ban on the export of hydrogen fluoride and other materials to Korea. HF, as the chemical’s formula is referred to, is important in the making of semiconductors, Korea’s leading export.

Tokyo has also attempted to draw in the United States as a mediator in the conflict, with its Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya reportedly asking Washington to step in on a meeting with U.S. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan at the Pentagon last Wednesday.

Under the Obama Administration, the U.S. intervened in Korea-Japan relations before, like during a row over the so-called comfort women issue in 2015. With Trump in the White House, however, there have not been any signs from Washington that it would take a stance on disputes between its allies.

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