The Japanese government and media outlets have strongly criticized South Korea’s Navy warship for having directed its fire-control radar on a Japanese patrol plane during its rescue operations for a North Korean ship on Thursday. Though Seoul’s Defense Ministry explained Friday that the warship was engaged in routine operations mobilizing all radars to detect a North Korean ship, Japan’s Ministry of Defense even issued a statement to counter Seoul’s arguments on Saturday. “Fire-control radars are used to determine the exact direction and distance of a target before an attack, and are not suited for wide-range searches,” the statement said. Tokyo also claims that Seoul’s destroyer locked a radar on the Japanese plane for several minutes.
Japan’s protest would be understandable if a fire-control radar was targeted on a patrol plane flying in Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Yet, even if Seoul already explained how the incident happened and that it was not purposefully tracking the Japanese plane, Tokyo is going too far by saying as if South Korea’s military had another hidden intention. Japan has been already told by South Korea that a fire-control radar had to be mobilized because weather conditions were not favorable back then. If it finds other parts that need to be explained, the Japanese government can officially request explanation through a bilateral diplomacy and security channel.
The latest incident is an issue that can and rightly should be amicably solved between friends through explanation and understanding. Japan’s continuous doubts about the case, especially when the South Korea-Japan relations have soured due to the South Korean top court’s recent ruling that urged Japanese companies to compensate South Korean victims of forced labor, can lead to criticism that the Abe government may try to politically use the incident to rally support for his administration.
Seoul’s Defense Ministry, on its part, should investigate the case to check the incident’s exact details and fully explain the results to Japan. Data released by Tokyo may point to possible issues with South Korean Navy’s radar operations, so the South Korean government’s response needs to be more thorough and objective.