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Tokyo Downplays Boat Incident

Posted September. 05, 2002 22:16,   


Less than 2 weeks ahead of the historic Pyongyang summit between Koizumi and Kim Jong-il, the Japanese government downplayed the appearance of an unidentified ship near its waters on September 4.

The unidentified vessel sailed away from the coast of Japan early on Thursday without any collision with Japanese patrol boats. As it is reported that the ship had some Korean letters on it, however, the incident remains as a volatile diplomatic issue.

Tokyo is worrying that the latest incident could throw the damper on the relations between two countries. A suspected North Korean spy ship had intruded into Japanese economic waters late last year.

To counter the criticism against its insipid response, the Japanese government said Koizumi could raise the issue of North Korean spy ships in Pyongyang later this month, but the way it responded to the latest incident shows its softened stance.

The U.S. military provided the Japanese Defense Agency with information that an identified ship was spotted 400km off the coast of Ishikawa-hyeon, Noto Peninsular on September 4. The agency, then, dispatched patrol boats and aircraft and began to chase the ship.

An official announcement, however, came 5 hours later after the initial development. According to the defense agency, the vessel was first spotted just outside Japan`s 200-nautical-mile economic zone.

The Prime Minister’s Office directed not to specify where the vessel was spotted, and allegedly waited for the ship to sail outside the exclusive economic zone before it made an official announcement.

After the patrol aircraft was dispatched to the scene, the police said at one time that it was a fishing boat. The defense agency stressed later in a statement, however, “It was an identified vessel but it was in the international waters outside the Japanese territory.” The Prime Minister’s Office told the agency not to chase it too closely, according to some reports.

Given the ship resembles the North Korean spy ship sank late last year and was sending off unusual radio signals heading North Korea, It is believed to be one of North Korea’s.

"We have a report that the ship resembles a vessel owned by North Korea. But we are not able to conclude it is from North Korea," Japanese top government official Yasuo Fukuda told a news conference.

Young-Ee Lee yes202@donga.com